Wednesday’s – 10th of April – episode of the wayward sea lion pup in OB’s Pier Parking lot is but the latest in a string of local human and sea lion pup collisions, incidents whose numbers are way out of proportion to the norm along the coast in Ocean Beach and other beach towns in Southern California.
The wayward pup was sighted around 5 a.m. on the corner of Abbott Street and Newport Avenue. A witness notified a passing police officer, who called SeaWorld. Even some media in the area found it.
But after about an hour, the pup waddled back into the ocean before the rescue squad arrived. The resident who originally saw the pup, Pamela Martinez, told the media “she was thrilled the pup went back on its own.”
But the pup’s arrival had noticeable media attention; Channel 10News was at the scene, City News Service was there, and there was even an article on HuffingtonPost.
Yet the media attention of this little guy is not what makes this incident noticeable. What makes this noteworthy is that this little pup’s plight reflects something drastic that is going on with his species right now, right here, in California, Ocean Beach.
What is going on with the sea lion pups?
Thousands of malnourished pups are coming ashore in record numbers and no one seems to be able to come up with a definite answer. Is there not enough food for them? Where are the mothers? Is it climate change and changing ocean water temperatures? Is it that their normal food source has collapsed or moved? Is it the Navy underwater sonar explosions? Is it some kind of toxin in the Pacific locally? Are the pups today’s bird-in-the-cage of mines?
A marine biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Sarah Wilkin, told NPR:
“These sea lions might be our sentinel that tells us something else is going on that’s going to be affecting other fish, that’s going to be affecting sharks, that could have much broader concerns throughout the ocean,”
In order to get some research attention, Federal wildlife officials have declared an “unusual mortality event” for the California sea lion this year.
The usual explanation for this seemingly aberrant behavior by sea lion young is pinned on warmer ocean temperatures or some kind of disease. Yet no one has been to pin this one. SeaWorld has rescued more than 300 sea lions this year already, and a dozen others including seal pups, harbor and elephant seals.
To pile on the bad news for the pup’s species, there’s been more sea lion deaths throughout Southern California this year compared to other years. Los Angeles County had the most deaths, with 395. San Diego County had 214. More deaths of sea lions were reported in Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
Wednesday’s interaction was the most recent. As HuffPost reports:
Earlier this month, another pup hopped into the front seat of a San Diego man’s vehicle when the driver, believing the animal was a dog, pulled up next to it and stopped in the middle of traffic. In a March incident, a baby sea lion waddled out of the ocean to find comfort in a La Jolla Hotel patio chair. Both animals were rescued by animal care specialists from SeaWorld.
More than a thousand malnourished sea lions have been rescued on the coasts of Southern California this year, – extremely high compared to other years.
The director of Marine Animal Rescue for Friends of Animals is Peter Wallerstein, and he works in the Los Angeles area, and attends to local beaches there. NPR reports that since the beginning of 2013, “Wallerstein has picked up more than 300 sick and dying California sea lion pups. In 27 years of doing this work, he says, he’s never seen anything like it.” He explained:
“We wonder why there’s no fish in the water, why the pups were born at such a low body weight. So they started out weak and cold and hungry, and it hasn’t got any better when they’re already weaned by mom and trying to find food, and they’re not finding it.”