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Sick sea lions throughout Southland beaches

April 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The number of sick sea lions coming ashore is growing. Marine animal rescuers have removed 17 of them since April 1. The mammals are suffering from seizures and in some cases, paralysis.

A sea lion survivor was nursed back to health Monday. She is one of dozens recently rescued from Southland beaches. Many are sickened by the smaller fish they feed on which are filled with domoic acid, algae produces it naturally in the spring time.

It is the same toxin linked to last month's fish kill in Redondo Beach. At the Marine Mammal Care in San Pedro, they are caring for the latest wave.

"Typically these amounts last a couple weeks, said Dr. Lauren Palmer from Marine Mammal Care. "We see a large influx of animals at that time. Suffer from seizures, coma, things like that."

This past weekend the Marine Animal Rescue collected six females near Malibu. According to Palmer, the numbers are not unusual but the illnesses appear more extreme.

Many are so sick that they die within 24 hours of their rescue. Typically they are pregnant females.

"In fact we had an animal this morning abort a pup," said Palmer. "And the only thing good about that is that she is up and alert, and she is eating, and she's on the road to recovery."

Palmer said there is no reason to believe that the domoic acid is more toxic than before. More likely, the sea lions are consuming more of the algae filled fish which are especially plentiful.

It is uncertain whether they've seen the worst of the seasonal illness. The Marine Mammal providers urge the public to keep their distance from the animals and to report them to a lifeguard if they appear sick.

"Get appropriate help," said Palmer. "And don't try to interact with that animal on their own. Wild animals are unpredictable, even in a healthy, normal state. And certainly when they become sick, injured or disoriented. They need to be treated with respect."