Sea Lions are the new Polar Bears
March 18, 2015 3:51 PM   Subscribe

California is having a sea lion crisis, (no, not THAT kind of sea lion, sharknado-face) with five times the usual number of sea lions "washing up onto shore" along the coast, most small pups and most starving. From San Diego, where Sea World cancelled its Sea Lion Shows to make personnel available for rescues and rehab, all the way up to Sonoma County, where 'six sick sea lions' all perished, while one was found on Skyline Blvd. in San Francisco (hitchhiking?) over 1000 feet from the coast.

A sea lion 'population explosion' has resulted in La Jolla Cove being taken over by the mammals, authorized sea lion killing at Bonneville Dam where they were feeding from the annual salmon run and the Eastern Steller sea lion coming back from near-extinction to 'multiple sightings' (you'd recognize them, they're blond). But now, a warming Pacific coastline (less because of Global Warming than the persistent La Nina conditions also causing California's bigger current crisis, drought) has forced immature pups, already underfed after their mothers failed to collect enough food or even return from food hunting, to wean early, often tragically.
posted by oneswellfoop (30 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
But now, a warming Pacific coastline (less because of Global Warming than the persistent La Nina conditions also causing California's bigger current crisis, drought)

Why not both! No, but actually isn't there some evidence that these are related? And not to derail, I mean I expect that these sorts of events will continue to increase in frequency as more ecosystems become unbalanced from climate change and other more direct human influences.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 4:13 PM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've come across pups on 2 separate times on Ocean Beach in SF in the last as many months. Both times they have been clearly in need of help, but both times they have fled back into the surf before I could come up with any plan to help them (I run on the beach so I'm not exactly well provisioned on these occasions), or go get to a phone to call a ranger. I really hope I don't encounter another one, but if I do I really hope I can help it without getting bit. This makes me very sad.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:25 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is heartbreaking stuff.
posted by erratic meatsack at 4:27 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I didn't mean to downplay Global Warming TOO MUCH, but a sea lion die-off was noticeable the last time we had a severe (but not as long as the current) La Nina in 1998.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:27 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I doubt this is a problem of a sea lion "population explosion" (it's funny how whenever there's more than ten of something that isn't human it's considered an "explosion" and needs to be culled) so much as it is a problem of limited food supply caused by human overfishing and general ocean poisoning so we can all pat ourselves on the backs for being concerned about this while we carry on holding nobody to account.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:31 PM on March 18, 2015 [8 favorites]


Maybe 'population explosion' wasn't the best choice of words either, but going from a 'seriously endangered' several thousand in 1972 to over 300,000 last year is pretty good growth. And there are congresscritters, supported by salmon-fishing people, pushing to repeal the environmental rule that started the sea lion recovery in '72 which I didn't bother to link to because it made me GRAR too much.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:36 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


And there are congresscritters, supported by salmon-fishing people, pushing to repeal the environmental rule that started the sea lion recovery in '72 which I didn't bother to link to because it made me GRAR too much.

I would like this GRAR link.

Please.

Thank you.
posted by Michele in California at 4:39 PM on March 18, 2015


I feel very badly for the pups and for the people who are only able to save some of them, despite their best efforts.
posted by angrycat at 4:41 PM on March 18, 2015


My mom was walking around Ocean Beach in SF earlier this year and she told me she couldn't believe how many sand dollars she saw. Something's up. Probably this. It's crazy how relatively warm the nights here have been since last summer. This past Saturday it stayed in the low 70s well past sundown--that practically NEVER happens at any time of year, much less March. I think last month set a new record in San Francisco for the highest average overnight low temperature.
posted by MattMangels at 4:46 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here. GRAR. (anti-environmental-advocacy site) The bill came AFTER last year's sea lion killing but suggests nobody can do anything about the beasts without it.

And I even had second thoughts about the Sea Lion/Polar Bear analogy because I read some expert (maybe in one of my links above) that this isn't an 'endangering' event, even if it drops the total sea lion population 25-50% in the next couple years. Researching this post has gotten me way too involved with sea lions. Take me back to the otters!
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:48 PM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just saw this at La Jolla Cove a few weeks ago. I'm a Wisconsin native, and I though "cute baby sea lions, SQUEEEE!!" and had no idea anything was amiss. Except there was one really skinny baby following an older pup. So upon leaving, I figured I'd find out if there were any rescues that dealt with abandoned pups. Which lead me to the unfortunate revelation that they ALL were abandoned pups.

It's so incredibly heart breaking. Probably good I don't live there, I'd be trying to take them all home in a valiant and yet incredibly stupid attempt to "rescue" them.

It sounds really bad there. I can't imagine how messed up the ocean must be for such a massive problem.

(I really wish there were signs at La Jolla explaining the problem too, no one there seemed to realize anything was unusual. Or that it was being monitored.)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:58 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


so much as it is a problem of limited food supply caused by human overfishing

I would wager that the current "population explosion" is partly attributable to the resurgence of anchovy and sardine populations from California to British Columbia in the 2000's. This is a cyclical fishery, and sardine stocks collapsed a while ago, as they tend to do.

The decline of salmon, another key species the animals feed on is less from overfishing and more from profound changes to the salmon's ecology on land. The California drought has dried up spawning beds. Elsewhere, notably in British Columbia, climate change has transformed the entire hydrology of a good chunk of the continent.

Combined with logging and roadbuilding, there are fewer places left for salmon, a truly keystone species on the Pacific coast, to spawn.
posted by Nevin at 5:09 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wonder how squid stocks are doing off California?
posted by Nevin at 5:10 PM on March 18, 2015


First Nuisance Sea Lions Of 2014 Killed At Bonneville Dam...
anti-environmental-advocacy site...
It's the friggin' dams on the Columbia/Snake river drainage's you Heartlander idiots.

Oh wait! Tar sands you say? The dams support barge shipping...

posted by ThreeCatsBob at 5:17 PM on March 18, 2015


Why not both! No, but actually isn't there some evidence that these are related?

It's interesting; apparently reduced precipitation in Northern California has not normally been predicted as a result of global warming. Of course, a great proportion of it which used to be snow will instead arrive as rain, which is problematic in its own way, but it wasn't supposed to disappear. There has lately been some thinking that the weakening of the jet stream, which will occur because the temperature differential between equatorial and arctic latitudes will decrease, could also reduce the strength of the winds blowing the moist air inland off the ocean. This in turn would lead to things like the "resilient ridge" of the past couple winters and could in fact exacerbate the drought situation. Here's a summary on some recent research into the issue.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 5:23 PM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's just heartbreaking, all around.

Someone needs to rewrite "The Grapes of Wrath" but with everyone fleeing the ravaged ecosystem of California toward the promised land of Oklahoma. (okay, make that Oregon, probably).
posted by argonauta at 5:25 PM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


I blame Sixth Sick Sheik's Sixth Sheep's Sickness.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:00 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I read stuff like this I feel overwhelmed and hopeless. I'm 50 now. I remember watching Jacques Cousteau when I was a kid, and he predicted this stuff 40+ years ago. As a child, I had to quit watching nature shows because they would always end with, "Take a good look because it will all be gone soon." It scared and depressed me. I love animals, all of them. In my head, I would pretend I wasn't a person; I was something different--mostly out of shame for what a shit species I knew we were. So it goes.
posted by dashDashDot at 6:14 PM on March 18, 2015 [15 favorites]


Humans: There is nothing we can't kill. We'll even get to ourselves eventually. That's how thorough we are.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:00 PM on March 18, 2015


I was really unprepared mentally when we hiked to a cove in Malibu and ended up with a view of at least five or six dead pups of varying ages in the surf a couple of weeks ago. The one alive, very skinny adult led me to some frantic googling for resources: the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which covers most if not all of California and many other coastlines in the US besides, the What To Do If You Find a Stranded Marine Mammal wallet card, and this very good list of what to do/not do/what to note for the rescue organization from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (which serves Orange County). There's also this organization for San Pedro and the surrounding area. It is really heartbreaking.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:45 PM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


When I read stuff like this I feel overwhelmed and hopeless. I'm 50 now. I remember watching Jacques Cousteau when I was a kid, and he predicted this stuff 40+ years ago. As a child, I had to quit watching nature shows because they would always end with, "Take a good look because it will all be gone soon." It scared and depressed me. I love animals, all of them. In my head, I would pretend I wasn't a person; I was something different--mostly out of shame for what a shit species I knew we were. So it goes.

I suppose the trend may be towards extinction but then again there are some (perhaps) temporary success stories. Forty years ago there was still whaling in the PNW, and the great whales were gone.

Now blue whales, finbacks and humpbacks have returned.

Forty years ago DDT wiped out eagles and other raptors in North America. Now a resurgent eagle population where I live is seriously culling the resident seagull population.

So while the trend may be towards extinction... it doesn't have to be if we put our minds to it as a society. So there is hope, however faint.
posted by Nevin at 11:44 PM on March 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


i hate how these things are seen as "tragic", but when it comes down to it, it's the direct cause of humans encroaching on land that wasn't theirs about 300 years ago.

And now we roll the excuses about how it MUST be something else. Maybe global warming
posted by hal_c_on at 1:05 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I saw one in Santa Monica. I called the ranger and was told they'd try to get to him, but they're really overburdened right now. Very sad. You could see the little guy's ribs.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:05 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


i hate how these things are seen as "tragic", but when it comes down to it, it's the direct cause of humans encroaching on land that wasn't theirs about 300 years ago.

Why shouldn't this be seen as tragic? I don't understand. Why would you "hate" that? Is it because sea lions aren't people? I try to empathize with various perspectives (honest), but this makes no sense to me whatsoever.
posted by dashDashDot at 5:10 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tragic in the sense of it is a misfortune or an unexpected devastating event. As you can see from the rest of the comment, this is to be expected when humans encroach on animal territories and also eradicate their food source(s).

I don't think hal_c_on means that its not sad and devastating in and of itself.
posted by LizBoBiz at 8:48 AM on March 19, 2015


Is it because sea lions aren't people? I try to empathize with various perspectives (honest), but this makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Because people viewing this event as "tragic" absolves them of any responsibility to do something...when in fact its because of people (stepping on another species environment) that is causing the mess.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:18 AM on March 19, 2015


i hate how these things are seen as "tragic", but when it comes down to it, it's the direct cause of humans encroaching on land that wasn't theirs about 300 years ago.

And now we roll the excuses about how it MUST be something else. Maybe global warming
What a bizarre comment. Encroaching on land that isn't ours? Sea Lions live in water dude.
posted by MattMangels at 11:20 AM on March 19, 2015


Sea Lions live in water dude.

Only partially; they're coastal and spend a lot of time hauled out of the water.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:45 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Because people viewing this event as "tragic" absolves them of any responsibility to do something...when in fact its because of people (stepping on another species environment) that is causing the mess.

My apologies, hal_c_on. I misunderstood your comment; I totally agree with you.
posted by dashDashDot at 3:58 PM on March 19, 2015


Pups being found in NJ washed up; I'd link to it but I'm on my phone
posted by angrycat at 11:09 AM on March 20, 2015


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