Sea Lion Die-Off Puzzles Marine Experts

By Jessica Greene
|  Saturday, Jun 5, 2010  |  Updated 11:10 AM PDT
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Vets Work to Unravel Mystery of Sick Sea Lions

Seaworld

Sea lions are turning up sick or dead along the California's coastline in greater numbers than they ever have before, leaving marine mammal experts puzzled.

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Sea lions are turning up sick or dead along the California's coastline in greater numbers than they ever have before, leaving marine mammal experts puzzled.

Dozens of young sea lion carcasses have washed up on beaches along the Central Coast, including 10 animals on one beach -- Del Monte Beach -- on Wednesday.

The Marine Mammal Center's Moss Landing Station says that 160 ailing sea lions were admitted to the main facility in Sausalito from January to May, up from 143 for the same period last year.

Sue Andrews, field manager for the Moss Landing Station, says warmer waters created by El Nino have affected the animals' food supply. Experts also blamed El Nino when the famed sea lions at San Francisco's Pier 39 disappeared, apparently looking for food.

The other factor making it so hard for the animals to thrive this year is the high number of early births. Experts are puzzled about what's causing the early births.

"This is pretty chilly water here, so for newborns that don't have that layer of blubber yet that they need to stay warm, they're putting a whole (lot) more energy into being warm," Monterey Bay Aquarium spokesman Jim Covel told the Herald. "It's the right time of the year, just not the right place."

If the die-off sounds familiar, that's because is it. Last year, at about the same time, veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito were dealing with an unusually high number of sick sea lions that came ashore along the state's coastline.

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