What’s Causing the Mass Die-Off and Starvation of California Sea Lions?
Associated Press reports:
At island rookeries off the Southern California coast, 45 percent of the pups born in June have died, said Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service based in Seattle. Normally, less than one-third of the pups would die.
It’s gotten so bad in the past two weeks that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an “unusual mortality event.” That will allow more scientists to join the search for the cause, Melin said.
Even the pups that are making it are markedly underweight ….
Rescuers have had to leave the worst of them in an effort to save the strongest ones, she said.
Routine testing of seafood is being done by state and federal agencies and consumer safety experts are working with NOAA to find the problem.”No link has been established at this time between these sea lion strandings and any potential seafood safety issues,” NOAA said in a statement.
Given that the FDA has refused to test seafood for radiation, we’re not that confident that the government is looking that hard to see if Fukushima fallout is the cause.
From the beginning of this year through last Sunday, 948 sea lion pups came ashore in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, according to figures from NOAA.
“There really isn’t an oceanographic explanation for what we’re seeing,” Melin said. “We’re looking at disease as a possibility and also at the food supply, and it could be some combination.”
This is an unprecedented crisis for the species in this state says the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
“So we are seeing exponentially higher numbers” [Keith Matassa, who runs the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach said].
CBS News reported last week:
”They’re very sick,” said Keith Matassa, who runs the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. His team is nursing 115 sea lions back to health. “A normal sea lion at this age — 8 to 9 months old — should be around 60, 70 pounds,” said Matassa. “We’re seeing them come into our center at 20 to 25 pounds, and really they look like walking skeletons.”
Biologists knew last spring that this year’s supply of anchovies and sardines could be limited, Boehm said.
“These two species of fish are an extremely important part of California sea lions’ diets, and females simply may not have been able to nurse their young sufficiently, resulting in abandonment, premature weaning and subsequent strandings,” he said.
Besides anchovies and sardines, sea lions also eat squid and other ocean creatures.
Time reported in April 2011:
Few people want to see the ocean’s anchovy stocks wiped out by radiation either. That’s just the scenario that seemed to be developing, however, when reports coming out of Japan revealed that elevated levels of cesium-137 had been found in anchovies in the waters off Chiba, near Toky0—a direct result of the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
In the big-fish-eats-little-fish way of the ocean, the radioactive contamination eventually gets passed up the food chain, concentrating in fats which get consumed and stored, until the isotopes finally come to rest in the very largest creature at the top of the food chain ….
Huge die-offs of sardines were also reported in the Chiba area of Japan after Fukushima.
Moreover, the Vancouver Sun reported in January 2012 that 94 per cent of the anchovies and 92 per cent of the sardines sold by the Japanese to Canada contained radioactive cesium. Some of the fish were caught in Japanese coastal waters; but others were made many hundreds of miles away in the open ocean.
(Note: there may be additional reasons for fluctuations in the numbers of anchovies and sardines other than radiation.)
Moreover, radiation from Fukushima was directly deposited into the kelp off the Western coast of North America … especially in Southern California.
Fish that eat the kelp have also gotten exposed to the radiation … as have the animals that eat those fish.
Sea lions … feed on the fish that live in kelp forests.
There are numerous other routes in which the Fukushima radiation could be getting to the sea lion pups. We noted last year:
A 1955 U.S. government report concluded that the ocean may not adequately dilute radiation from nuclear accidents.
MIT says that seawater which is itself radioactive may begin hitting the West Coast within 5 years.
In 10 years, peak radioactive cesium levels off of the West Coast of North America could be 10 times higher than at the coast of Japan.
As we’ve previously noted, Reuters reports that Alaskan seals are suffering mysterious lesions and hair loss:
Scientists in Alaska are investigating whether local seals are being sickened by radiation from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
Scores of ring seals have washed up on Alaska’s Arctic coastline since July, suffering or killed by a mysterious disease marked by bleeding lesions on the hind flippers, irritated skin around the nose and eyes and patchy hair loss on the animals’ fur coats.
“We recently received samples of seal tissue from diseased animals captured near St. Lawrence Island with a request to examine the material for radioactivity,” said John Kelley, Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“There is concern expressed by some members of the local communities that there may be some relationship to the Fukushima nuclear reactor’s damage,” he said.
Here’s a picture of one of the injured seals:
We reported yesterday that a new scientific paper shows that the Fukushima radioactive plume contaminated the entire Northern hemisphere during a relatively short period of time ….
Radioactive fish are also being found off the West Coast.
A California-sized island of debris from Japan is also hitting the West Coast.
Unfortunately, the nuclear accident is nowhere near contained. Japanese experts say that Fukushima is currently releasing up to 93 billion becquerels of radioactive cesium into the ocean each day, the reactors have lost containment, and groundwater is flooding into the stricken reactors (delaying clean-up).
And things may get worse for California, instead of better .
Update: The government has finally agreed to check for radiation.