Mammal center sees another influx of sick sea lions

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is again seeing an influx of malnourished sea lion pups at its Laguna Canyon facility, center officials announced in a news release.

As of Wednesday, the facility had 100 sea lions in captivity, close to capacity. Last year saw a record number of sea lions at more than 370, the release said.

“The sea lion pups we are seeing are exhibiting very similar conditions to last year,” Executive Director Keith Matassa said in the release. “Many pups are malnourished and dehydrated with low body weight.”

The center has rescued 166 seal and sea lions this year.

“In the last month we’ve seen the rescues spike,” Matassa said. “We were fairly steady in the first quarter, and in April we began experiencing five to eight rescue calls a day.”

Researchers are still trying to determine why so many unhealthy sea lions are washing ashore.

“The reasons behind the animal strandings are an extremely complex issue,” Matassa said. “Although there is a leading theory that their food source is playing a significant role, there are a multitude of factors that come in to play, and each one is being investigated.”

The center, at 20612 Laguna Canyon Road, is the only nonprofit organization in Orange County licensed to retrieve and care for marine mammals.

“We need anyone who sees a seal or sea lion on the beach to back away and call us immediately,” Matassa said. “We have had a higher number of people chasing the animals back into the water or attempting their own rescues, which is the worst possible thing that can happen to a sick animal.”

Center officials advise the public to stay at least 50 yards away from an injured animal; call the center immediately at (949) 494-3050 to report its description and location; keep pets away from the animal; do not push or encourage the mammal back into the ocean; and do not pour water on or feed the animal.