Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

Why toxic algae is especially dangerous for California sea lions this year


A 2012 overview of trends in toxic algae along the West Coast — published in the journal Harmful Algae — notes a body of evidence suggesting toxic blooms off of California have been worsening in the past 10 to 15 years. A 2018 study published in the same journal further identifies Southern California as a domoic acid hotspot.

On a beautiful Friday in July, a dehydrated young sea lion was rescued from the Harford Pier by the Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo County rescue team.

Pier visitors noticed the curious sea lion had been lounging on a floating dock for a suspiciously long time.

This California sea lion, later dubbed “Landing,” represents one of the hundreds the center cares for every year, including a large number suffering poisoning from an algal toxin called domoic acid.

Dr. Cara Field, one of the center’s veterinarians, said this year is especially alarming because the algal blooms responsible for producing domoic acid have started earlier than usual — just in time to target “adult female sea lions making their way to the Channel Islands to give birth” and “a whole second generation” of unborn sea lion pups.

The source of domoic acid — a potent neurotoxin — is a microscopic plant-like organism called phytoplankton.

When one particular species called Pseudo-nitzschia finds just the right sweet spot of conditions, it can rapidly reproduce and form a “ bloom.”

People unfortunate enough to be exposed to domoic acid by eating tainted shellfish can develop amnesic shellfish poisoning. Severe cases of the condition, as described by the California Poison Control Network website, includes “short-term memory loss, seizures, coma or shock” — although these cases are rare thanks to precautions taken by the state Department of Public Health.

Marine mammals are also susceptible to poisoning but don’t have a warning system in place like we do.


Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

California's stranded sea lions suffering from brain damage caused by algal blooms

Scientists have gleaned fresh insight into the havoc wreaked by a microscopic culprit that has disrupted marine life this year along the Pacific Coast, not only tainting Northern California’s delicious supply of Dungeness crab but also sickening or killing hundreds of sea lions. It’s long been known that a tiny toxin called domoic acid, produced by marine algae known as pseudo-nitzschia, kills brain cells. But new research by a UC Santa Cruz team illuminates the relationship between damage to the brain and sea lions’ profound loss of memory and navigational skills. In recent years, biologists have increasingly observed a high number of California sea lions struggle onto beaches, weak, confused and trembling.
“They have a lot of difficulty navigating and finding food,” said Peter Cook, who presented the findings Monday at the biannual Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in San Francisco. “They have no sense of which way to go.”
While harmful algal blooms are not unusual, this year’s phenomenon was the largest ever recorded, lasting through the summer and extending from Santa Barbara to Alaska. Blooms of the toxic algae typically occur in the spring and last just a few weeks.
This year’s bloom caused the unprecedented shutdown of the commercial Dungeness and rock crab fisheries throughout most of California. But the toxin has affected other marine life as well, working its way up the food chain from razor clams to anchovies and other small fish to sea lions, one of the top predators in coastal waters.
For the first time ever, sick sea lions have been documented in Oregon and Washington, not just California, said Kathi Lefebvre, of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
An estimated one-third of stranded sea lions suffer from domoic acid poisoning, Cook said. The research is published in this week’s issue of the journal Science.
Read more at: California’s stranded sea lions suffering from brain damage caused by algal blooms – San Jose Mercury News

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center sees record number of stranded seal pups


The northern fur seal strandings are the latest in a string of alarming marine events. Experts have been working all year to address an “unusual mortality event” among California sea lions.

Another species of marine wildlife has begun turning up, emaciated and weak, in record numbers on the California coast in what continue to be alarming signs of oceanic distress.
Unhealthy northern fur seal pups have been found stranded on beaches in record numbers, newly weaned and weighing little more than typical birth weight for the species, marine mammal experts said.
“They’re adorable, but on the other hand they’re these little bags of skin and bones,” said Jeff Boehm, executive director of the Marine Mammal Center near Sausalito.
As of Friday, the nonprofit center on the Marin Headlands had taken in 85 northern fur seals, which live out in the Pacific Ocean’s waters and islands and would only rarely be found on shore.
That number is more than double the previous record of 31 pups in 2006, according to the center.
Read more at: Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center sees record number of | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, Sustainable Living, WildlifeTags , , , Leave a comment on Federal fisheries regulators halt West Coast sardine season

Federal fisheries regulators halt West Coast sardine season

Associated Press, NYTIMES.COM

Sacramento Bee: Starving sea lions spotlight overfishing

Federal regulators on Wednesday approved an early closure of commercial sardine fishing off Oregon, Washington and California to prevent overfishing.
The decision was aimed at saving the West Coast sardine fishery from the kind of collapse that led to the demise of Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name set in Monterey, California.
Meeting outside Santa Rosa, California, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to direct NOAA Fisheries Service to halt the current season as early as possible, affecting about 100 fishing boats with sardine permits, though far fewer are actively fishing at the moment. The season normally would end June 30.
Frank Lockhart of NOAA Fisheries Service estimated it would take one to two weeks to notify fishermen and bring sardine fishing to a close.
Earlier this week, the council shut down the next sardine season, which was set to begin July 1.
The action was taken based on revised estimates of sardine populations, which found the fish were declining in numbers faster than earlier believed, and fears that without action sardines could soon reach the status of being overfished.
The council did not take Wednesday’s decision lightly and understood the pain the closure would impose on the fishing industry, said council member Michele Culver, representing the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. She added that it was necessary because a new assessment of sardine stocks showed they were much lower th
Read more via Federal Fisheries Regulators Halt West Coast Sardine Season –

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , Leave a comment on Warm waters off Pacific coast upsetting biological balance, researchers say

Warm waters off Pacific coast upsetting biological balance, researchers say

“Unprecedented changes” that have warmed the ocean off the west coast of North America may portend a dramatic decline in the biological productivity of coastal waters, explaining recent strandings of emaciated sea lion pups and a mass die-off that began last fall of small seabirds called Cassin’s auklets.
That’s the word from fishery experts and ecologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who say populations of tiny organisms at the base of the marine food web already have diminished and could take a toll on everything from salmon to seals because of especially intense variability in regional weather patterns.

Scientists remain in “wait and see” mode, but, “Our guess is the primary productivity of zooplankton and phytoplankton will probably be reduced this year,” and perhaps even longer, said Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.

A shift in atmospheric winds and the flow of unusually warm waters south from the Gulf of Alaska have raised ocean surface temperatures between 2 to 6 degrees along a band of Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Mexico, according to Nate Mantua, leader of the landscape ecology team at the science center’s Santa Cruz facility.

“Right now, the ocean is very warm, and we have lots of indicators pointing to low productivity and low availability of some of the more normal prey items for things like seabirds and marine mammals, including seals and sea lions,” he said.

Read more via Warm waters off Pacific coast upsetting biological balance, | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , Leave a comment on Scientists: Warm waters, scarce prey likely cause of sea lion strandings

Scientists: Warm waters, scarce prey likely cause of sea lion strandings

An intensifying spate of sea lion strandings on the California coast is likely caused by a shift in winds that has warmed coastal waters, making prey scarce for sea lion mothers and interfering with their ability to feed their pups, federal scientists said Wednesday.
The announcement marked the clearest answer yet to what might be affecting the sea lions, hundreds of which have come ashore malnourished and severely underweight in recent months.
With more than 940 animals, mostly pups, already admitted to rehabilitative care over the past several weeks, the state’s marine mammal centers are nearing capacity and running through resources, said Justin Viezbicke, California Stranding Network Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
Many sea lions won’t be saved.
Read more via Scientists: Warm waters, scarce prey likely cause of | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , Leave a comment on Mystery malady affecting sea lion pups strains Sausalito wildlife center

Mystery malady affecting sea lion pups strains Sausalito wildlife center

The Marine Mammal Center in Marin County is on the front lines of a statewide response to a surge in sea lion pups turning up on California beaches emaciated and sometimes sick, at a time they still should be in the company of their mothers, nursing and learning to forage.
Already this year, the rehabilitation center in the Marin Headlands has received at least 108 California sea lions in need of care — mostly pups, but some juveniles and adults, as well, staff veterinarian Cara Field said Tuesday.
Even more were in line to arrive from triage centers farther south Wednesday, facility personnel said.
The marine mammal hospital usually takes in just a few California sea lion babies in January of a given year.
The most ever was last January, when there were 10, so “we’ve received a huge increase,” Field said.
The situation is similar across the network of marine mammal care facilities on the West Coast, many of them based in Southern California, closer to the Channel Islands sea lion rookery and other off-shore breeding grounds reaching into Baja.
Scores of malnourished pups, their big, dark eyes appearing even larger than usual in their thin faces, are being rehabilitated, taxing the nonprofit centers that take them in.
Read more via Mystery malady affecting sea lion pups strains Sausalito | The Press Democrat.