What's Causing Sick Sea Lions to Wash Ashore in San Diego? - LaJolla.com

What’s Causing Sick Sea Lions to Wash Ashore in San Diego?

A new phenomenon of sick sea lions and other aquatic animals washing ashore in San Diego is being caused by a record-breaking ocean event.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, a toxic bloom of algae along California’s coastline is causing the surge in sick sea animals washing ashore. The algae bloom is damaging the brain of sick sea lions and other creatures, causing them to become confused or even aggressive.

As such, local wildlife and oceanography experts are warning beachgoers in San Diego to keep a safe distance from any sick sea lions. One spokesperson for NOAA noted that because of the neurotoxic algae, animals may not be “acting normally.”

Blooms of the algae pseudo-nitzschia can produce a neurotoxin called domoic acid, which can damage both the brain and cardiovascular system of infected animals. Over the past month, hundreds of sick sea lions, dolphins, and other creatures have washed ashore.

Algae blooms like the one California is currently seeing are not uncommon. Generally, they’re seasonal in nature. However, marine biologists note that the region has experienced a “harmful algal bloom on a scale we have not seen before.”

High concentrations of the domoic acid neurotoxin were first seen in waters near Santa Barbara last month. The algae blooms have moved south since then, causing sick sea lions and other creatures to wash ashore along San Diego’s beaches.

SeaWorld’s rescue team can help sick marine animals.

“We see these animals coming in every year, but this is just a big bloom,” SeaWorld veterinarian Dr. Kelsey Herrick told the Union-Tribune. “This is the biggest one I’ve seen in my career.”

Although the neurotoxin can sicken animals, it’s not harmful to humans unless they ingest it in contaminated food. The acid moves up the food chain from plankton to other marine creatures before ending up with larger marine mammals, who often ingest the most toxins.

With the proper care, sick sea lions can be saved by veterinarians. So, in addition to keeping your distance, local officials advise that you contact SeaWorld’s rescue team at 1-800-541-SEAL.