Pacific Marine Mammal Center expects record animal rescues due to El Nino

Friday, January 22, 2016
Pacific Marine Mammal Center expects record animal rescues due to El Nino
Officials at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, California expect animal rescues to be at a record high in 2016 due to El Nino.

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- The Pacific Marine Mammal Center said it's preparing for what El Nino will bring ashore this season.

The non-profit rescued nearly 600 marine mammals in 2015, which was a record for the center. That number was up four times compared to 2014.

Officials said they're expecting even more in 2016 due to El Nino.

"The animals are having a hard time finding the food," said Keith Matassa, Executive Director of the center in Laguna Beach. "Ocean temperatures are up and there's lots of movement of nutrients, so the fish are moving around and the sea lions are having a hard time getting fish. El Nino just takes really bad conditions and makes them even worse."

Matassa said the center is working with National Marine Fisheries, the National Marine Mammal Foundation and specially trained animal response teams on the East Coast to bring more people in to help.

He also said the center is working with the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach to set up a temporary triage hopefully as early as February.

"Basically a remote clinic that will have a staffed veterinarian, a couple of staff members to help expedite treatment and removal of California sea lions from the Huntington Beach area," Matassa explained.

Many of the animals are found malnourished, with parasites and suffering from pneumonia.

"You look at these animals that are so malnourished, you see every rib in their body of these little pups and you know they're struggling to survive," said Irene Gilgoff, a volunteer at the center for the past four years.

It can take two to four months before an animal is well enough to be released.

As it prepares for an influx of rescues, the center is warning people not to touch a stranded sea lion on the beach, as it can bite. Instead, you should contact a lifeguard or the marine mammal center at (949) 494-3050.

The center relies on volunteers and donations to help rescue animals. If you'd like to learn how you can help, visit Pacific Marine Mammal Center's website here.