Sea Lions, Getty Images

Sea Lions, Getty Images

Sea lions and dolphins along the Southern California coast are getting sick because of a toxic algae bloom.

Experts say twenty marine mammals have been rescued after getting stranded on Southland beaches in the past several weeks. All were suffering from the toxin.

"Many of the sea lions are currently being treated at various local marine mammal rehabilitation facilities," Peter Wallerstin of Marine Animal Rescue.

The toxic algae bloom produces a biotoxin known as domoic acid, which accumulates in anchovies and sardines that feed on the algae, Wallerstein said.

The contaminated anchovies and sardines are then consumed by sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins and sea birds, that become ill, he said.

Marine mammals are considered "wild animals" and can be very dangerous, Wallerstein said. Also, approaching the animals could be a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

People should stay at least 50 feet away, and not "touch, pour water on or disturb the animals in any way," Wallerstein said. Violators could be fined up to $10,000 and face a year in prison.

Many beaches are posted with "Marine Mammal: Do Not Disturb" signs.

And since it is illegal to have dogs on the beach, Wallerstein warned people to keep canines away from beached marine mammals.

Since Jan. 1, 140 marine mammals have been rescued in the county by Marine Animal Rescue, Wallerstein said.