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More sick sea lions washing up on beaches

March 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Dozens of sick sea lion pups are washing up on local beaches and despite rehab efforts, many of the pups are dying at rescue centers.On a typical year just over 100 sea lions in Orange County require some sort of medical attention. However this year has been especially tough.

"The hardest thing for us, being behind the scenes, is the severity that we are seeing this year," said Kirsten Sedlick, an animal care supervisor at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.

El Nino has caused warm ocean water and is driving away fish and the seals are starving because of it.

Usually seals brought to the center take an average of two to four months to recover. But this year the seals are so emaciated they will need five to six months before they can be released into the wild.

"Normally our success rate is around 80 percent. With pups this year we are down to 40 (percent)," said Richard Evans, the center's medical director.

Many of the sea lions are being discovered by people walking on beaches. Experts say people should be cautious around the sea lions.

"The best thing is to keep away. Don't try to feed them especially in these stages you don't know what's going to happen with their system," said Sedlick.

The average cost of rehabilitating a seal is about $2000. The Marine Mammal Center is non-profit organization supported solely by the public. The organization is actively seeking volunteers and donations.