Sea lion rescue effort keeps SeaWorld show on hiatus

SeaWorld sees record number of sickly sea lion pups, including one in beach chair in Coronado

SeaWorld San Diego is extending the suspension of its sea lion and otter show so that trainers can assist in the rescue effort of a record number of sickly sea lion pups swarming California beaches.

The park had announced March 7 that the popular "Sea Lions LIVE" show was being suspended for two weeks. On Thursday it announced the suspension will continue another week, maybe longer.

SeaWorld has rescued 552 marine mammals this year, including a malnourished and underweight sea lion pup that came ashore in Coronado this week and plopped into a beach chair.

The Kulikoff family from Canyon Lake in Riverside County had spotted the sea lion on the Silver Strand Beach. By the time the rescue squad from SeaWorld arrived, the pup had jumped into the family's red, blue and yellow-stripped beach chair.

Although the sea lion show remains suspended, SeaWorld announced that, starting Friday, it will hold twice-daily (1:30 and 2:45 p.m.) informational presentations in the Sea Lion and Otter Stadium.

The presentations, expected to last 15 to 20 minutes, will help visitors understand the current rescue effort and SeaWorld's overall program for caring for marine mammals found in distress.

The number for just the first three months of 2015 tops SeaWorld's previous high of 474 for the entire year of 1983.

Statewide, nearly 1,800 sea lions have been discovered stranded on California beaches this year, according to researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Mammal Laboratory.

The rescue effort has strained the resources of SeaWorld and other facilities.

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.

The goal at SeaWorld and other facilities rehabilitating the pups is to help them gain enough weight and strength to return to the sea in six weeks or longer.

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