SeaWorld suspends sea lion show so trainers can help rescue effort

SeaWorld San Diego has suspended its sea lion and otter show so trainers can help rescue the increasing number of sickly sea lion pups stranded on California beaches.

Starting Saturday, the popular "Sea Lions LIVE" show at Sea Lion Stadium will be suspended for at least two weeks so the trainers can join SeaWorld's rescue team, park officials announced Friday.

So far, SeaWorld has rescued more than 400 sea lions in 2015, twice the number it usually rescues in a full year, officials said. More than a thousand have been stranded on California beaches, federal officials said.

SeaWorld is building two temporary pools for the rescued sea lions.

Emaciated and dehydrated, sea lion pups are washing ashore in record numbers, straining the resources of SeaWorld and other facilities involved in rescue and rehabilitation.

Marine mammal specialists offer various theories about what is causing the high number of sea lion pups in distress.

One is that the sea lion population may have reached the point where the food source, mostly sardines and squid, is inadequate.

Another theory is that the warmer water -- a record 5 degrees above average -- may have forced the food source to retreat into colder water, making it more difficult for sea lions to find their prey.

Sea lion females who are still nursing may be having to spend more energy to find food, forcing pups to fend for themselves before they are weaned.

"These little pups, so desperate and so thin, are leaving the rookeries long before they're capable of hunting effectively," Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, told Reuters.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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