The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an Unusual Mortality Event Tuesday regarding the unusual numbers of threatened Guadalupe fur seals washing ashore in California, many of which are being rehabilitated at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.
Guadalupe fur seals, marked by their smaller stature, ears, and furry brown coats, are rarely ever glimpsed near shore but have been washing up on California beaches in various stages of malnutrition and emaciation this year, according to Marine Mammal Center spokesman Giancarlo Rulli.
According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, an Unusual Mortality Event such as the one declared by the NOAA today is a “stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.” According to the NOAA, 80 fur seals were found stranded on the California coast this year. Many have been found in the San Francisco, San Mateo, and Monterey areas. 38 of the seals were rehabilitated and 42 were found dead, NOAA officials said.
According to Rulli, most of the stranded seals are pups 9 to 12 months old.
“While these numbers might not sound like a lot, for a threatened species it’s actually a big warning sign that we need to pay attention to what’s happening in our oceans,” Marine Mammal Center marine scientist Tenaya Norris said in a statement.
The Marine Mammal Center took in 33 of the fur seals that were found still alive. The other five were admitted at Sea World in San Diego, according to Rulli.
According to Marine Mammal Center officials, 11 of the 33 seals have so far been successfully nursed to health and released with a satellite tag that allows scientists to track the animal and see how they are faring post-release.
However, the magnitude of this crisis is straining resources at the nonprofit organization. There is already an Unusual Mortality Event declared for the unusual numbers of sea lions washing ashore, many of which are also being rehabilitated at the Marine Mammal Center.
According to the Marine Mammal Center, scientists believe that unusually warm waters have been affecting populations of the fish that seals feed on.
“These stranded animals are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of animals affected by the unusually warm water temperatures we’ve been seeing off the coast,” Norris said in a statement.
If warmer waters along the coast continue, the focus must shift to long-term solutions to address what scientists have identified as the three primary stressors of the ocean environment including overfishing, pollution and global warming, Marine Mammal Center officials said.
Scientists estimate that only about 10,000-15,000 fur seals are currently left in the wild, according to the NOAA and Marine Mammal Center officials.
According to Marine Mammal Center officials, the best way for the public to help during the immediate crisis is to donate to the center at www.marinemammalcenter.org/donate.
According to Rulli, the donations will go towards fish and medicine for patients, and help the center continue to research marine mammal diseases and educate the public on the importance of marine mammals and marine health.
Marine Mammal Center officials also ask anyone who comes across a stranded marine mammal not to approach, touch or attempt to remove the animal. Instead call their 24-hour rescue hotline at (415) 289-SEAL (7325) with exact location information.fl