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Are California's Starving Sea Lions Latest Victims of Climate Catastrophe?

Scientists in California say 'environment is changing too rapidly' for these marine mammals

A sea lion on the rocks in San Diego. (Photo: Nathan Rupert/flickr/cc)

Unusually warm waters off the California coast are causing the highest number of sea lion pup strandings over the past decade, scientists say, raising concerns about the long-term effects of climate change and rising ocean temperatures on the species' survival.

According to the New York Times, which reported on the sad phenomenon on Thursday:

Many of the pups are leaving the Channel Islands, an eight-island chain off the Southern California coast, in a desperate search for food. But they are too young to travel far, dive deep or truly hunt on their own, scientists said.

This year, animal rescuers are reporting five times more sea lion rescues than normal — 1,100 last month alone. The pups are turning up under fishing piers and in backyards, along inlets and on rocky cliffs. One was found curled up in a flower pot.

"The environment is changing too rapidly," said Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, who found that pups on the Channel Islands were 44 percent underweight.

A study published in October 2014 found that the ocean is getting warmer at a rate that far outpaces previous estimates. 

And at the end of last year, Common Dreams reported on a similar event: a massive gathering of walruses—35,000 of them—crowded onto a small strip of shore in Alaska. Scientists attributed the swarm to global warming and declining sea ice. 

"The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, and that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change," Margaret Williams, managing director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Arctic program, said at the time.

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