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California sea lion pups faring well


California sea lion pups born at Channel Islands rookeries this year are finally faring well after four years of mass strandings, experts at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute have revealed.

The pups are now in a much better condition and are returning to their normal weights after four years of poor conditions that started off with the unusual mortality event in 2013. Pups are returning to their normal sizes and experts are hopeful that if the conditions continue to improve, there won’t be any huge mass stranding this year.

Things are looking good from the surveys carried out by NOAA experts and experts at Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach and the Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles in San Pedro have also revealed that they are optimistic about the possibilities of less stranding, but they are going to prepare for the worst. According to details provided by the two centers, they have rescued 295 and 376 sea lions respectively this year.

This was the fourth year of mass strandings of sea lions off the California coast that NOAA scientists attribute to a warming ocean and lack of food for the marine mammals. According to latest statistics, as many as 2,100 sea lions are still recovering in rehabilitation facilities.

At the worst during the NOAA-declared unusual mortality event in 2015, 3,300 pups came ashore, dying or dead, taxing resource-limited response centers across the state. The strandings stretched the resources of marine mammal rescue centers from San Diego to Sausalito.

While the sea lion pups — now about three months old — weighed in at about 37 pounds, there were fewer of them. Reports have also indicated that there are much less live births compared to years before the mass strandings. The fact that the birth rate at the two islands has been lower in four of the past five years shows that females are having difficulty supporting pregnancies due to poor foraging conditions during the gestation period. This is a common effect of El Niño conditions that result in a redistribution or reduction in fish and squid that sea lions rely on.

A follow-up trip in December will help provide more information on what sea lion pup stranding numbers might look like this year, experts have said.