This ongoing stranding, which has been declared a Unusual Mortality Event (UME) by the federal government, is a result of the change in availability of food sources for sea lions, including Pacific sardines, northern anchovies, rockfish and squid.
The availability of prey is very important for nursing sea lion mothers and for the pups as they start to wean and learn how to forage on their own. Changes in sea surface temperature can have significant impacts throughout the food web, and historically, El Niño years have resulted in high numbers of marine mammal strandings on the West Coast. Warmer water conditions during El Niño years often result in a lower abundance or redistribution of sea lion prey, making them less available to sea lions.
Members of the marine mammal stranding and rehabilitation network, like the National Aquarium, are working together in a collaborative manner to assist California centers. Aquarium staff were recently deployed to the Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur to help care for over 100 sea lions and seals that were in rehabilitation.
During the week deployment, our staff worked alongside staff from the Virginia Aquarium and the Marine Mammal Care Center to prepare daily diets, feed and care for animals, assist with intakes and clean rehab enclosures. Additional staff from the National Aquarium will be deployed in the coming weeks.
Other facilities are supporting the event from an administrative perspective, including drafting action & contingency plans, securing emergency funding, ordering supplies, and coordinating travel plans for deployed staff.
If you’re interested in learning more about this UME, click here.
Stay tuned for more updates!