SoCal sea lions are suffering from acid poisoning

Volunteers are working overtime to rescue suffering sea lions in California.

Sophie Flay Image
Friday, September 23, 2022
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Volunteers are working overtime to rescue suffering sea lions in California.

For more than a month, volunteers at the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute have been working around the clock to save sea lions that have been poisoned by a toxin found in algae.

"Domoic acid toxicosis is caused by a harmful algal bloom or red tide, some people may call it, and ocean conditions just have to be right for this bloom to occur," said Jennifer Levine of the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute

Feeder fish like anchovies and sardines eat the algae, then sea lions eat the fish which is how they're getting a dose of the toxins.

The Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute is testing the potency of this toxin on the sea lions that have died from it.

A bloom like this typically happens every three to four years. But global climate change could make a bloom like this more frequent or more concentrated, according to Levine.

"The majority of the animals we've seen during this event have been California sea lions but we have seen a couple of fur seals and a couple of common dolphins," said Levine.

Common symptoms of this acid poisoning include disorientation, foaming of the mouth, bulging eyes and seizures.

"I'm a nurse, I'm not really freaked out by much. But this has been really sad and I feel helpless," said Lesley Daley of the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute.

Since Aug. 15, they've responded to more than 260 marine mammals suffering from this acid poisoning and have rescued 70 of them from Santa Barbara to Ventura.

While Levine said they like how community members and beachgoers have acted quickly to report the sick sea lions, she recommends staying away.

If you see a marine mammal that looks like it needs medical attention, you can call the hotline at (805) 567-1505.

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