- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

SAUSALITO, Calif. (AP) - A marine mammal rescue group said Monday it’s seeing a record number of stranded sea lions and seals along the Northern and central California coast - some of whom appear to have been sickened by toxins and others weaned by their mothers earlier than usual.

As of Monday, the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito had brought in 446 California sea lions, elephant seals, harbor seals and fur seals in 2014, said Shawn Johnson, director of the center’s veterinary science department. That’s up from 302 animals admitted over the same period last year and the previous record of 418 animals in 1998.

The animals, many of them emaciated and dehydrated pups, included a young sea lion spotted in March hopping through an almond orchard a mile from the San Joaquin River in central California. The animal, nicknamed “Hoppie,” was taken to the Marine Mammal Center for treatment.

Johnson said the sea lion pup breaches are particularly unusual because the center normally does not see them in Northern and central California at this time of year. They accounted for 144 of the animals the center had treated as of Monday, he said.

“This year, they’ve been weaned and separated from their mother a month or two early and have gone out and are trying to forage and survive on their own,” he said.

Why that happened is not clear, but Johnson said it may reflect changes in fish quantity and location.

The center has also treated dozens of adult sea lions who appear to have been sickened by toxins from an algae bloom in Monterey Bay, Johnson said.

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