Al Jazeera America - They are brought in with all sorts of problems: lockjaw, poisoning, cancer and even bullet wounds from fishermen. But most of the record number of seals and sea lions washing up on California's shores and being brought to a regional rescue center are starving.
Unprecedented warm waters off the Pacific coast over the past two years have led fish that marine mammals feed on to move to colder waters — making it difficult for seals and sea lions to nourish themselves, let alone feed their pups. With the current El Niño weather event expected to continue bringing warm water over the rest of the winter, this slow-motion catastrophe is likely to continue.
The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, just outside San Francisco, rescues 600 to 800 seals and sea lions a year on average from the 600 miles of California coastline it covers, from north of San Francisco to just above Santa Barbara County in the south.
But in 2015, the center was brought a record 1,799 animals — including California sea lions, Guadalupe fur seals and northern fur seals. The 106 northern fur seals it rescued more than tripled its previous record.
The California Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a network of independent groups overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, keeps track of stranding events for both live and dead animals, including seals and sea lions, across California. In 2015, they counted more than 4,200 California sea lions, 90 Guadalupe fur seals, and 70 northern fur seals.