National Geographic News
Sea lions are fed at a rescue facility in San Diego, California.

A group of California sea lions and a Guadalupe fur seal (right) gather at a SeaWorld facility in California.

Photograph by Gregory Bull, AP

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

Published March 21, 2013

A mysterious tide of California sea lion pups (Zalophus californianus) have been washing ashore in recent months, prompting one rescue facility to declare a state of emergency.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach (map) has more than 80  sea lion pups in their care, an "alarming" number, the organization said on their website. On March 9 the facility took in 12 pups, the highest number of rescues recorded in a single day in the center's history.

Wired reported that as of March 13, 517 pups had been admitted to five Southern California rescue centers.

Most of the sea lion pups are severely malnourished, dehydrated, and underweight, requiring major intervention to get the mammals healthy enough to be released back into the wild.

"The last time we had this many sea lions this early in the year was 15 years ago," director of animal care Michele Hunter said in a statement.

In 1998, an El Niño weather pattern warmed the waters off the California coast, causing fish to migrate farther from shore and adult sea lions to swim farther in pursuit—making it harder for moms to care for their babies, Reuters reported. (See "Octopus vs. Sea Lion—First Ever Video.")

"Animal rescuers believe adult sea lions are again foraging deeper into the ocean this year, but the reasons are unclear," according to Reuters.

"We are seriously concerned about the pace at which animals are stranding, and having the resources to keep up," Hunter said. (See pictures of threatened marine species.)

Don't Chase the Pups

Whatever the cause, anyone who sees a stranded sea lion pup in California should call the Pacific Marine Mammal Center immediately, executive director Keith Matassa said in a statement.

"We have had a higher number of people chasing the  animals back into the water this year, which is the worst thing that can happen to a sick animal.

"These pups are coming ashore to get warm and rest, and are hauling out of the ocean to survive."

Redirectionalism Redirectionalism
Redirectionalism Redirectionalism

Mike Makuyi wrote "Guys, take off the tinfoil hats."  It is Fukushima, and everyone knows that but you because you work for the NUKES.  Take a look at Food babe's book on Amazon and see all the ridiculous  pro GMO and pro BPA comments.  Expect nothing different here.  

Jason Moyer
Jason Moyer

Could this have to do with slow radiation spreading with the currents form japan? Animals always seem to know and react to thing that are wrong in nature way before humans ever figure it out! 

Mike Makuyi
Mike Makuyi

Guys, take off the tinfoil hats.

It more likely has to do with the scraping of the oceans by human commercial fishing. When ecosystems are severely disrupted by removal of species, they NEVER return in exactly the same fashion .

When older temps allow more oxygen in the sea, phytoplankton bloom, zooplankton thrive, and so on up the line. BUT...if fish are so depleted, other organisms, such as quick-reproducing jellyfish and squid (I've seen Humboldt squid here on NorPac shores, this decade, where they were not known), replace them, creating entirely different food chains.

When such things happen, predators can be left behind.

Yes, the PDO and Ninos have cyclic effects, but look to acidifying oceans, swept clean of fish to feed domestic animals, fish farms, humans, for significant unprecedented factors. Don't eat farmed fish, and avoid buying any commercial fish. Even cattle have fish meal in feedlot diets, as well as poultry.

Jeff Biro
Jeff Biro

Would Japan's nuclear problems have anything to do with this?

Bellz Webster
Bellz Webster

I hope they find out whats causing their sickness. The poor things.

Oren Saghian
Oren Saghian

why would people want to send them back into the sea? they're so cute. if you realize that there is a sick animal, you don't chase it away or just leave it there. 

Angelo Jimenez
Angelo Jimenez

I heard a report this morning on CBS news about San Diego "citizens" who were harassing pups on their precious beaches. Also, many pregnant adults were said to miscarry when harassed. Are Californians chasing away seals cause they can't share their world with wildlife? I wonder.

Trent Landers
Trent Landers

For a large organization, your ISP is VERY slow for verification of email addresses. I had to re-authorize 7 times in 3 minutes. If it is going to take a predetermined amount of time to authorize, then you should tell your commenters that are just now signing in that it will take 5 minutes to authorize their email addresses. Lastly, this repeat process results in double posting of your readers' comments and your "snippy" response that no matter how much we like our post, we cannot post twice is rude and unnecessary.

Trent Landers
Trent Landers

If any of these pups have died, what did the autopsies show? In past instances of this type, stomach contents showed debris from the "trash bin" of the central Pacific Ocean to be present, filling up the stomach but providing no nourishment to the sea lion and other sea mammals. The wanton dumping of fecal tainted garbage from cruise ships is also problematic, especially considering the prevalence of norovirus and rotavirus and their highly contagious nature. Excess cruise ship food not consumed on board is dumped in the ocean carrying these pathogenic gastrointestinal viruses, also. Could it be that sea lions and other species of ocean mammals may be susceptible to contracting these sometimes life threatening viruses?

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy moderator

Hi @Trent Landers - I'm sorry to hear you were having trouble logging in. We're going to check into this issue but if you'd like, please feel free to email me at with any more information you can give me about what happened. Again, my apologies for the inconvenience.

Todd Brown
Todd Brown

@Meghan Murphy @Trent Landers what browser are you using Trent?  Firefox has some quirks with the National Geographic that can be avoided using Internet Explorer.  Also be patient, this is your first time posting, it wasn't too long ago that verification was an overnight process.  When I first started using e-mail in the late 1980's it could take hours for a message to get from Connecticut to Illinois.


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