We have been hearing a lot about sea lion pups washing up on shore looking underfed, and often get asked, “What is happening to the Sea Lions?” It is certainly hard to see baby animals in distress, and the amount of animals washing ashore has been alarming, so we went to the experts at the Marine Mammal Center to get an answer.
Here is what Frances Gulland of the Marine Mammal Center has to say:
“…there is some talk of [the sea lion] population having recovered after MMPA protection in 1972, and having reached carrying capacity. Carrying capacity is the population level the environment can support. Mammal populations are essentially controlled by natural factors that kick in when at “carrying capacity”.
Thus, when talking about sea lion mortality, we should be clear that
- Mortality is of pups that are of an age when they should be on the rookery suckling from mothers
- Pups are emaciated but do not have obvious disease
- Problem must be with lack of mother’s milk, and hence mothers food supply, but we don’t have much direct hard evidence of this
- If mothers food supply limited, it could be for several reasons
- Fish moved away from the Channel Islands, or deeper, from where mothers feed, due to oceanographic changes such as El Nino
- Overfishing of forage fish in southern California
- Large sea lion population has eaten all forage fish in the area
We do what we do for animal welfare reasons, and try to glean as much science as we can, and do as much education as we can over marine mammal conservation.”
If you see a stranded marine mammal, make sure you keep your distance, make careful observations, and report it to a rescue center! Click here for more information.
Remember! The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires that humans stay 50 yards away from seals and sea lions. Under this protection, human activity should not influence the animal’s behavior. Click here to learn more.
Many thanks to our friends at the Marine Mammal Center for this information and for hosting our guests for a behind-the-scenes tour!