Sea World Releases Stranded Sea Lions Back Into the Wild
May 8, 2013

Sea World Releases Stranded Sea Lions Back Into the Wild

Alan McStravick for — Your Universe Online

Between January 1 and March 31 of this year, over 1,300 malnourished sea lion pups have beached themselves on the shores of California. This figure exceeds the yearly average by over 1,000 percent. One such pup, nicknamed Dollar, had beached herself in Southern California only to go through a period of recuperation and release, later stranding herself 300 miles to the north, again severely malnourished.

Speculation as to the causes behind this unusual mortality event (UME) varied wildly from weather to overfishing to radiation released after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster after the 2011 tsunami.

According to Jim Milbury of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, experts “haven´t ruled out” the possibility of radiation affecting the sea lion pups. Milbury went on to state radiation is highly unlikely, however.

In an interview with a local television station, Milbury commented, “Radiation is being looked at, just like everything else. We haven´t ruled it out, but we really don´t suspect this at all. We don´t suspect radiation because this would also mean other animals in the ocean would be affected, especially in the oceans of Hawaii, closer to Japan, and we haven´t seen any of that.”

The most plausible reason is likely starvation. This seems to be bolstered by the experience of Dollar. “For some unknown reason that we´re still researching, their food prey has moved to another location in the ocean and the sea lion pups can´t get to it,” explained Milbury.

In April, NOAA was able to declare the mass beaching as a UME. This designation freed up funding and allowed more scientists to join in the search for the cause. What is clear is the ocean off of the Southern California coast is no place for sea lion pups right now. The suspected cause of starvation, according to Sarah Wilkin, NOAA´s marine animal stranding coordinator for the Southwest region, would lead to an earlier weaning of the pups from their mothers who, themselves, would be spending an increased amount of time foraging for fish. This early weaning would be completed before the pups were strong enough to find their own food. Both starving and exhausted, the pups may have seen the shoreline as their only refuge.

A silver lining to this story was announced this week when Sea World officials claimed they were able to rehabilitate and release nine of these malnourished pups.

Each individual rehabilitation for the pups ranged between five and nine weeks and resulted in their being able to be released from the Border Field State Beach after each pup was able to more than double their weight.

According to Sea World spokesman Booker Crenshaw, there are still more than 130 pups currently undergoing rehabilitation at the theme park.

Dave Koontz, another spokesman for the marine-oriented theme park, claimed since the beginning of the year, Sea World has taken in almost 360 stranded marine mammals. Most of the 360 mammals were young sea lions.

The animal rescue group, S.O.S.: Saving our Sea Lions, has launched a series of videos on YouTube in an effort to highlight the efforts behind the rescue and rehabilitation of these animals.

Each video gives a short update and includes behind-the-scenes looks at treatment of young sea lions at the Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Orange County, California. The first two videos produced by the group detail the intake, treatment and feeding of the rescued pups.