Scientists believe a dramatic drop off of a nutritious fish may be the root of an epidemic of sick sea lion pups along the SoCal coast.
Scientists believe they may finally know why up to 1100 lion pups have turned up sick on Southern California beaches over the last year, including in OB and San Diego’s coast.
The phenomenon seemed to begin in January 2013 when a large number of pups began washing ashore injured, dehydrated and malnourished. Scientists looked at environmental factors, such as algae growth and wind pattern changes. But they now believe a dramatic drop in the sardine population was the culprit.
The cold water conditions in the Pacific Ocean have caused a crash in the number of sardines, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Sea lion mothers depend on the oily fish to pack on pounds before giving birth, but the sardine population has been dwindling as a result of cold water and a population increase in predators.
With sea lions no longer able to depend on sardines for nutrition, they may be forced to eat less nutritious prey. That leaves them unable to feed their pups enough milk, scientists believe.
In April, scientists said the epidemic appeared to be slowing down. Back in April, Sarah Wilkin, the California marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stated that the change has occurred.
“For a couple of months, it was more like ten a day,” said Wilkin. “Now we are down to three or four.”
The epidemic, which caused NOAA to declare an “unusual mortality event” earlier this month, has baffled scientists.
Now, it appears they’ve ruled out the possibility that overfishing is depleting the ocean food source, as some have suggested.
“Right now our data does not suggest that any of the stocks off California are overfished,” Wilkin said.
Ed.: Most of the above material was gathered from 7San Diego.