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UNUSUAL MORTALITY EVENT (UME) - What are the threats facing Californian Sea Lions?

15 Apr 2015

 Californian sea lion pup rescued by Channel Islands Marine Wildlife Institute (CIMWI)


A Rise in Water Temperature


It is thought that this current (2015) UME in Californian sea lions has been caused by a rise in water temperature, up to 5 degrees warmer than average. The preferred prey species of sea lions (sardines and anchovies) have been forced into deeper, cooler waters further from shore. As a result, mothers have to leave their pups for longer periods of time and cannot supply adequate nutrition. Whalefish are working alongside Channel Islands Marine Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) to rehabilitate pups in need of support.


Water Pollution


Water pollution is another threat facing marine life of all shapes and sizes. Examples of marine pollution are agricultural run-off, industrial waste, oil spills. Biological and chemical pollutants enter the water system and cause devastating health complications for the entire ecosystem. In recent years cancer has been detected in an alarming number of Californian sea lions. There is scientific research which finds high levels of toxic PCBs within deceased animals with cancerous lesions.


Marine Debris


Another great concern is the massive accumulation of garbage in the oceans. Plastic materials are particularly problematic as they do not biodegrade but take years, perhaps hundreds of years to photodegrade into smaller and smaller particles making them impossible to remove from the bionetwork. Plastics are found in fish, seabirds, turtles and marine mammals and can cause suffocation, blockages in the digestive system and can rupture internal organs. Entanglement in marine debris is an ever increasing threat to the oceans’ inhabitants; one of the most fatal culprits is fishing gear (ropes, nets, hooks etc.). If an entangled sea lion is lucky, a trained individual may be able to disentangle the debris and give the animal a fighting chance for survival.


 Niru Dorrian of Whalefish assisting CIMWI to release a rehabilitated sea lion.

How can you help?


While there is little we, as individuals, can do to directly and immediately influence the temperature of the oceans, to make prey species more available or to remove the vast and accumulating marine pollution, we can make an effort to clean up our beaches. Many marine conservation groups organise beach clean ups in order to bring the community together to take responsibility for ensuring their beaches are not contributing to the problem of marine debris in the oceans. Join us in an effort to clean your local beach. If you would like to see less plastic on your sands, get in touch to set up a beach clean in your area.


Supporting non-profit organisations such as CIMWI and Whalefish will see your donations going directly to real-time marine conservation efforts. Please get in touch if you would like to support our mission in any way you can.



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