Climate Action

Sea Lions Face Third Year of Starvation

More sea lion pups are washing onshore emaciated this year than in the previous decade combined.

California Sea Lions are struggling through a third summer of starvation in a row. Large numbers of undernourished sea lion pups have been washing ashore in California, overwhelming rescue centers with already limited resources. As of the end of May, more than 3,000 pups had washed ashore, more than all the pups that washed ashore from 2002 to 2009 combined. What’s worse, the case of their starvation is not completely understood.

Warm water has settled off the coast of California this season, disrupting the ocean’s food web. This can partly explain the large numbers of starving pups, but what about the past two years when this influx of warm water wasn’t there? Like most other environmental issues, the answer is more complex than one single factor. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have put the blame on a lack of food. The pup’s mothers are not able to get enough food, or have to hunt for so long to find it that the pups take out on their own and end up washing ashore. Scientists have been trying to use their limited resources to figure out what happened to the sea lion’s food sources, but clues of the collapsing ecosystem can be seen without special equipment. The Pacific Fishery Management Council recently canceled the 2015 sardine fishing season for the entire West Coast of the United States due to extremely low populations. With other signs of distress in the Pacific, its no surprise we are seeing sea lions in crisis. Sea lions are a sentinel species, meaning they are good indicators of environmental health. It looks as if they are trying to tell us something is very wrong in the Pacific.

Vice News has put together a great video on the current crisis that you can watch here. You can also find out more information about the crisis an how to help at rescue centers such as the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

William Reckley, Intern