On Sunday, April 9, Captain Barry Curtis was in an inflatable boat about a half of a mile off the shore of California‘s Laguna Beach when an adult sea lion began swimming around his boat. After a couple times around his boat, the sea lion jumped aboard.
Curtis, who is a member of the California’s Orange County marine mammal disentanglement team knew the sea lion’s behavior was off. He immediately called the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and arranged for them to meet him at the dock at Dana Point Harbor, reports the Bellingham Herald.
As Curtis made his way back to shore the sea lion laid listlessly in his boat. Once they reached the harbor members of the PMMC netted the sea lion and credited Curtis with a rescue.
After arriving at their facility, the PMMC staff discovered the female sea lion was pregnant. She was the 12th pregnant sea lion they had rescued in the last week. Like the other sea lions, she was displaying signs of domoic poisoning. The neurological toxin is created by ocean algae bloom.
On Monday, Justin Viezbicke of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated that they are seeing an increasing number of sea lions displaying signs of domoic poisoning at different marine centers. Symptoms of domoic poisoning include lethargy and unawareness.
Researchers believe that the increasing numbers of sea lions displaying symptoms of domoic poisoning mean that the environment remains off balance.
Lactating mothers are moving closer to the Channel Islands because of the lack of food, reports CBS San Francisco.
Keith Matassa, the executive director of PMMC, shares that the sea lion’s health helps scientists determine the condition of the marine environment. He calls sea lions the “canaries of the marine environment.” He adds that last year sea lions told them when food was scarce and this year they have told them about the domoic acid bloom.
Domoic acid bloom happens in the spring. It is created when water run off with fertilizer creates a larger bloom that surface fish eat. In large enough concentrations, the toxins it creates can create neurotoxins that can easily destroy the brain.
Because sea lions eat surface fish they are easily exposed to the toxins. Scientists state that pregnant sea lions are especially vulnerable because they eat extra surface fish to maintain their pregnancies.
Leeds states that they see a few cases here and there, but last year there were no confirmed cases. In previous years the numbers of sick, stranded sea lions have left centers flooded, reports U.S. News and World Report.
Dr. Lauren Palmer, a veterinarian with the Marine Mammal Care Center in Los Angeles, says that she has taken 15 sea lions in the last 10 days that have all the classic signs of domoic poisoning. She says that is an enormous number for such a brief time period.
Members of Californa’s PMMC states that Domoic acid poisoning cannot be diagnosed until tests are run. There is no cure for domoic poisoning.
By Tammy Marie Rose