A record number of stranded seal pups have been spotted on California beaches, causing environmentalists to fear that marine habitats are under severe threat.
The northern fur seal pups showed signs of severe malnourishment and starvation, being extremely weak and tiny. Although the aquatic mammals had been weaned and were approximately 4 to 5 months old, their weight was similar to that of cubs which had just been born.
The emaciated animals were skin and bones, obviously following an excessively long period of time spent without any source of nutrition.
It’s probable that even their mothers had been too weak and underfed to nurse them properly, which left the pups unable to gain enough strength to hunt from prey and sustain themselves.
According to Jeff Boehm, director of the Marine Mammal Center from Sausalito, California, a total of 85 northern fur seal pups have been retrieved by volunteers after having been found stranded along California beaches.
This is an unprecedented number, which is actually more than twice as high as the previous record of seal pups rescued by facility workers in 2006, which stood at 31.
Usually, the animals inhabit the Pacific Ocean, and it’s highly abnormal to find them on the coast. Unfortunately however, these aquatic mammals are just one of many species that have been brought to the shoreline in recent months.
Every day, more and more reports are received, regarding marine animals that have turned up on the beach and can no longer return back into the water.
The center’s volunteers have had to spend an additional 149,433 hours this year undertaking various rescue operations.
In total, they have managed to help over 1,747 seals and sea lions, a record number, which is actually unprecedented in the organization’s history, spanning across 4 decades.
The facility has been overwhelmed with such demands, and is struggling to provide its assistance to all these distressed creatures.
This suggests that the ocean’s health is undergoing significant decline, most likely as a result of “The Blob”, a large mass of warm water that has formed in the Pacific Ocean along the North American coast, stretching from Alaska to Mexico.
Man-made climate change caused by green house gas emissions may have contributed to this change in sea surface temperatures, which has also been exacerbated by El Niño, a phenomenon which has caused ocean waters to warm even further.
Excessive heat in the water makes them lose their nutrient value, and as a result phytoplankton is greatly reduced, which also negatively impacts zooplankton. Sources of nourishment become increasingly more elusive, forcing fish to migrate, thus changing their normal distribution.
This leaves marine animals that rely on them foraging for food in vain, and as they swim farther and farther from their usual habitats they become victims of forced beaching.
For example, extensive pressure faced by marine habitats has been the source of an “unusual mortality event” (UME) encountered among Guadalupe fur seals, a species which is already severely endangered.
The number of strandings along the Californian coast involving such animals has been 8 times higher in comparison with historical averages.
A similar UME was issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act regarding California sea lion pups ever since 2013, the young animals arriving in Southern California in unprecedented numbers.
A vast majority of them have been found to be severely emaciated, dehydrated, and grossly underweight given their age. This raises fears not just regarding current populations, but also about the overall survival of the species, as its numbers continue to dwindle.
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