July 19, 2008

Rescued Sea Lion Gravely Ill: ‘San Tomas’ to Be Euthanized

By Shelby Martin, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

Jul. 19--San Tomas, the sea lion who was rescued from a Santa Clara aqueduct, has taken a turn for the worse and will be euthanized.

"Her health is just deteriorating," Jim Oswald, spokesman for the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito said Friday.

The center had thought San Tomas was doing well enough to be released into the ocean today. But following an examination by a specialist, Oswald said the sea lion will probably be euthanized in the next few days.

After San Tomas was stranded in the shallow concrete-lined channel, veterinarians suspected she might be suffering from chronic domoic acid poisoning, a disease that can cause mental confusion and disorientation. Domoic acid is a neurotoxin that builds up after toxic algal blooms, and mammals such as sea lions accumulate the compound after eating contaminated fish.

Last week, veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Center gave San Tomas an EEG to check for abnormal brain activity characteristic of domoic acid poisoning. Center veterinarians originally did not see any evidence that the sea lion was ill, and she was scheduled to be released from Point Reyes on Saturday, along with five other sea lions and two elephant seals.

But when specialists at the University of California-Davis reviewed the EEG, they found evidence of low-level seizures in San Tomas' brain.

She is sick, and getting sicker.

San Tomas weighs 140 pounds, and officials at the Marine Mammal Center originally thought she was a

juvenile around 2 years old.

The sea lion is actually a malnourished 4-year-old adult, Oswald said. At her age, she should weigh in at about 200 to 220 pounds.

The sea lion may have been malnourished because she was too disoriented to find food.

"She doesn't appear to be in pain," Oswald said. "But there's no good prognosis."

San Tomas could re-strand inland, or she could head out to deep water where there isn't enough food. She could even suffer a seizure in the water and drown.

Contact Shelby Martin at [email protected] or (408) 920-5427.


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