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Is Climate Change To Blame For Starving Sea Lion Pups?

So far this year, more than 1,600 starving sea lion pups have come ashore in southern California, because their mothers are having to venture farther away to find food.

It’s happened in large numbers for three years now.

NOAA climatologist Nate Mantua blames the food chain disruption on a warmer cyclical wind pattern and not climate change.

“It’s a very regional patch of warm water and it doesn’t look like global warming to me,” Mantua says. “It looks like a consequence of some unusual wind patterns along the Pacific Coast, which we have had for most of the last year. And in fact, on the West Coast we’ve had some extreme weather; it’s not unrelated to the extreme weather you’ve experienced in Boston.”

However, Mantua says climate change could be the reason the winds are shifting.

“There are some ideas out there about the link between human cause, global warming, and persistent weather patterns like we’ve had, especially the last two years, that have just brought California extreme conditions,” Mantua said.

Meanwhile, Peter Wallerstein, founder of the Marine Animal Rescue, has been dealing with the events.

“In 30 years of rescues, I’ve never rescued this many sea lions in the months of January, February, and March before,” he tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “Now we’re getting what seems like an endless number of pups coming up starving, emaciated, hungry; they’re ending up all over the place.”

He says people who find the animals shouldn’t try to help the pups eat or get back in the water.

“They’ll get close to it, and put their arm around it, and get bit. These animals have a bite ten times greater than a pit bull and their mouth is full of bacteria; it’s the dirtiest mouth of any mammal,” Wallenstein said. “What they should do is stay back from the animal, let the animal warm up on the beach, then contact lifeguards.”

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A sea lion pup at normal weight (left) and a pup under weight (right). (NOAA Fisheries West Coast)
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A sea lion pup at normal weight (left) and a pup under weight (right). (NOAA Fisheries West Coast)