Guadalupe fur seals have been stranding on the California coast in unusual numbers this year. For over half of the marine mammals, this led to their death.
As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA) declared the puzzling event an ‘unusual mortality event’, other federal organizations and institutions are trying to take the challenge of saving as many Guadalupe fur seals as possible.
Since January, federal officials have counted 80 Guadalupe fur seals stranded along the California Coast. Of them, 42 were dead when rescue teams reached the shore. Of the 38 which were retrieved, only 16 remained alive and could be reintegrated in their natural habitat.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is among the actors that are raising up to the challenge. When a similar mortality event was declared in the case of sea lions in 2013, members of the Center helped with the rescuing and reintegration efforts.
According to Keith Matassa, the director of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Orange County is ready to do its best to save the Guadalupe fur seals from certain death. While 80 of the marine mammals being stranded on the California coast might not seem like such an alarm signal, it should. The species in endangered and during the 1800s it was on the brink of extinction.
Now, experts count that approximately 15,000 individuals of this rare species are still alive.
“There is a chance, that’s why we’re preparing. If we did get some, as they are an endangered species, they would be transferred to Sea World’s Rehabilitation Center”,
At Sea World, the Guadalupe fur seals would receive prime care. The majority of the seals found on shore were emaciated. Death by starvation once they are stranded on the coast is almost a certainty if they are not retrieved timely. As such, immediate and attentive care is the Guadalupe fur seals’ only hope for survival.
During a typical year since the records are being kept, the number of stranded Guadalupe fur seals doesn’t exceed 12 on average. These marine mammals breed on the Guadalupe Island, thus their exotic-sounding name. Just off Baja California, the island is home to the species until they venture in the ocean in search for food.
The puzzling mortality event declared by the NOAA might be partly explained precisely by the feedstock availability. As the warm blob advances and disrupts marine wildlife across global oceans and Pacific Ocean, some fish are pushed further north or on unusual migration patterns.
The global warming of seawater is disrupting marine ecosystems, in some cases leading to high mortality events. As is the case with the Guadalupe fur seals. Pushed ashore after already starving, they can’t find food and die.
Of the 80 Guadalupe fur seals found this year, the majority were pups, according to Justin Viezbiecke, the coordinator of the West Coast marine mammal stranding department for NOAA Fisheries.
Photo Credits: Flickr