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Photo story: California sea lion pups stage healthy comeback

For the past 3 years, California sea lion pups appeared on Southern California beaches skinny and malnourished. A record-breaking 4,000 pups stranded in 2015, leaving skilled rescuers scrambling to care for them all. Experts believe sea lion prey, especially small fish such as sardines and anchovy, were not available in great enough numbers to nursing mothers, making it difficult for mother sea lions to find food and produce the milk necessary to feed growing pups that year.

This year could be different. In a preliminary expedition to the islands where some California sea lion pups are born, NOAA experts and our scientific partners found encouraging data to suggest pups were off to a good start in 2016.

 

2015: Sea lion pups in peril

Last year, sea lion pups stranded along the California coast in record numbers, and were often malnourished by the time they arrived at rescue and rehabilitation centers. Permit #16087-02.
Last year, sea lion pups stranded along the California coast in record numbers, and were often malnourished by the time they arrived at rescue and rehabilitation centers. Permit #16087-02. (NOAA)

 

2016: Look at them now

This year, though, things are looking up for California sea lion pups. Recent research by NOAA scientists and other researchers at the San Miguel and San Nicolas sea lion colonies on the California Channel Islands indicates that pups are better nourished in 2016. Permit # 16087-02.
This year, though, things are looking up for California sea lion pups. Recent research by NOAA scientists and other researchers at the San Miguel and San Nicolas sea lion colonies on the California Channel Islands indicates that pups are better nourished in 2016. Permit #16087-02. (NOAA)

 

So: How exactly do you weigh a young sea lion?

NOAA Fisheries scientists use a suspended scale to weigh sea lion pups, and results show that, at 3 months old, pups this year weigh an average of 37 pounds—a nice normal weight for sea lions of that age. Permit # 16087-02.
NOAA Fisheries scientists use a suspended scale to weigh sea lion pups, and results show that, at 3 months old, pups this year weigh an average of 37 pounds—a nice normal weight for sea lions of that age. Permit #16087-02. (NOAA)

 

Not out of the woods: Scientists are cautiously optimistic

While the improving health of the sea lion pups this year is good news for now, it doesn’t mean that those studying and working with sea lions in Southern California are resting easy like this guy is. Rescue and rehabilitation centers in the region are still on alert to respond to reports of animals in distress: hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.Permit #16087-02.
While the improving health of the sea lion pups this year is good news for now, it doesn’t mean that those studying and working with sea lions in Southern California are resting easy like this guy is. Rescue and rehabilitation centers in the region are still on alert to respond to reports of animals in distress: hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. 
 

You can support your local stranding network members by contributing directly to their organizations or donate to the Unusual Mortality Event Contingency Fund to help stranding networks nationwide respond to extraordinary events. Permit #16087-02. (NOAA)

 

What’s ahead?  Keep an eye on the colonies and ocean conditions

Scientists will make more trips to the island colonies this year to study how sea lion mothers and pups are faring; they hope their findings will yield more clues about what the 2017 stranding situation might look like. But for right now, even ocean data is trending in the right direction. Although ocean temperatures around the islands reached record highs in 2015, they are finally starting to cool and returning underwater ecosystems to normal—a hopeful sign for sea lion mothers and pups.
Scientists will make more trips to the island colonies this year to study how sea lion mothers and pups are faring; they hope their findings will yield more clues about what the 2017 stranding situation might look like. But for right now, even ocean data is trending in the right direction. Although ocean temperatures around the islands reached record highs in 2015, they are finally starting to cool and returning underwater ecosystems to normal—a hopeful sign for sea lion mothers and pups. (NOAA)

 

November 22, 2016