Sea Lion pups dying off in huge numbers throughout Southern California

NOAA says Fukushima radiation likely not the cause

San Diego - Sea lion pups have turning up more and more around San Diego County.

Last week, one little guy showed up in the back seat of a man's car last week.  Another climbed three flights of stairs to get to a garden planter of a seaside home in Carlsbad.  Both of those pups were rescued by SeaWorld. 

Government scientists are now looking at why so many pups are coming ashore and why so many are dying. 

"The historical average for sea lion pup die off is 131.  This year we've had 1100 to date so this is quite extraordinary," said NOAA Fisheries spokesman Jim Milbury.

Milbury is referring to pupping season which goes from January through late March. 

Just this year in southern California, LA County had the highest number of deaths, with 395.  San Diego County was second with 214 followed by Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. 

There have been more deaths since the 24th of March, adding up to the 1,100 figure.

Some media outlets in southern California picked up the NOAA Fisheries report and speculated that radiation that has drifted over from Fukushima might be to blame.  But NOAA's Milbury said probably not. 

"We do not suspect radiation as a cause for the sea lion pup die off," Milbury said.

NOAA is currently conducting toxicology exams on the dead pups.  The cause of death for most of the pups appears to be starvation. 

"All the animals that are coming ashore are showing the same symptoms and that is that they're emaciated, they're dehydrated and they just are apparently having a difficulty finding food," Milbury said.

So, now the question is, why the difficulty finding food?  The answer to that question should come from NOAA studies, which will probably take several months to complete.

A die off like this is not unprecedented. One happened during the last El Nino year.  But there are no El Nino conditions this year, so scientists said that can be ruled out.

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