Since Jan. 1, crews have been rescuing several pups at a time between the shores of Camp Pendleton and Mexico.
“Their skin is so loose hanging off them, it looks like they’re wearing pajamas. These are extremely skinny pups,” said Jody Wetberg of the SeaWorld rescue team.
The pups suffer from malnourishment, dehydration and various sicknesses.
“That is not normal. That’s unusual in January to see that many small sea lion pups stranded, so we do have concerns that if it continues at this rate, this could be a bad year for sea lion pups,” said Wetberg.
Aside from it being weaning season, when mothers send their pups on their way, SeaWorld veterinarians believe a possible El Nino is to blame.
“We are seeing some warm water temperatures that are driving bait fish to deeper waters, so the adults are finding the fish because they dive deeper. But these youngsters, they don’t know how to dive deep, they don’t know where the food is,” said veterinarian Todd Schmitt.
Most of the rescued pups were born last June. Their weak condition makes them susceptible to bacterial infections including pneumonia.
They are being given fluid and antibiotic treatment and will spend the next two to three months in rehab before they are released back into the wild.
“We are dealing with a natural cycle. Also, we are seeing the sea lion population has exploded, so there are possibly more animals out there that are trying to get food but if the food isn’t available, we are likely going to see more numbers,” said Schmitt.
In 2013, over 1,500 animals were found stranded along the California coast. SeaWorld veterinarians are predicting another high year.
If you need to report a sick or injured sea lion or seal, contact SeaWorld's hotline at 800-541-7325.