Veterinarians will testify at the state's capital Wednesday on behalf of thousands of starving sea lions who have surfaced on California's coasts. (Photo Courtesy of Marine Mammal Center)

Vets to testify about spike in malnourished sea lions on California coast

The more than 3,300 malnourished sea lions that surfaced on the California coast last year will be represented by the veterinarians who rescued them during a special hearing at the state’s capital Wednesday.

Stories of rescued sea lions even made a splash in San Francisco last year, including a starving pup that was found wandering near Fort Funston in February 2015.

Wednesday’s hearing was requested by Richard Bloom, chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation, and will include veterinarians’ accounts from several marine mammal stranding groups that were granted $1 million from the State’s General Fund last year to combat sea lion stranding.

“What we are doing is telling the story of what is an unprecedented and continued crisis for California sea lions,” said Jeffrey Boehm, executive director of the Bay Area-based Marine Mammal Center and one of the veterinarians testifying at the special hearing.  

The veterinarian testimony and state efforts to fund sea lion rehabilitation come after four years of skyrocketing mortality rates and low population numbers among sea lions, said Laura Sherr, a spokesperson for the Marine Mammal Center.

“There has been, over the past couple of years, a consistent body of water that is warmer than typical,” Boehm said, adding that the warm water brought on by the El Nino weather system drives away fish that the sea lions rely for food. The lack of available food causes the mammals to become too weak and malnourished to continue swimming, he said.

“Sea lions aren’t finding the food they need,” Boehm said. “They are often pregnant and nursing females that can’t take care of themselves, much less take care for their pups.”

The Marine Mammal Center has 52 sea lions in its care, an amount much higher than normal, Boehm said.

“It’s been a trying year,” Boehm said. “We are bracing for what might lie ahead. We simply need to be ready.”  

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