- Associated Press - Friday, December 11, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Federal scientists are expecting another year of high death rates and strandings for sea lions and fur seals off the California coast.

Researchers found that pups of both species this fall were more than 30 percent below their normal weight, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research biologist Sharon Melin told the San Francisco Chronicle (https://sfg.ly/1OmizV1) in a story on Thursday. Melin said low weights last year led to a huge death toll.

From January through May, marine biologists collected 3,340 sick, starving and dead sea lions that came ashore in Central and Southern California. “Based on the condition of the pups we saw in September and October, we would anticipate there will be at least as many strandings this winter,” Melin said.

Fur seal pups, meanwhile, have already begun turning up on beaches. Justin Viezbicke, the California stranding network coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, said 154 fur seals have already been found on West Coast beaches. He advised beach-goers to stay away from stranded animals and call for help.

The main problem appears to be a lack of food. Scientists say the animals’ food supply of sardines, anchovies, Pacific hake, rockfish and squid has been affected by higher-than-normal Pacific Ocean temperatures that have been exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern.



Melin said she believes mothers are spending more energy searching for food, leaving them unable to produce enough milk to sustain their pups. If the pattern continues, the sea lion population off California will drop from the current estimates of about 300,000, she said.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, https://www.sfgate.com

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