Guadalupe fur seals starving at high levels

Posted at 7:55 AM, Oct 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-02 10:55:09-04

Could El Nino be threatening an already threatened species?

Guadalupe fur seals are stranding themselves and dying off at unusually high levels along the California coast, including San Diego County.

10News went to SeaWorld, and inside one exhibit, there were three fur seals, the youngest of which is a prime example of an alarming trend.

Boldt, who is two years old, is eating and healthy -- months after standing himself on a shoreline.

"These strandings are really concerning to us," said Jody Westberg, a member of the SeaWorld Rescue Team.

Since January, some 80 emaciated fur seals have come ashore along the California coast -- eight times more than normal.

"We're seeing ribs, hips, spines. They really look like walking skeletons," said Westberg.

Five of those strandings were in San Diego County, about 600 miles from Guadalupe Island, the seal's breeding ground.

This week, federal officials labeled the danger an "unusual mortality event."

"They are a threatened species. They could be on the brink of extinction. We don’t want that to happen," said Westberg.

Just as we've seen with the ongoing story of starving sea lions, experts believe El Nino could also be a factor with the fur seals. As coastal waters warm up, the seal's food source is on the move.

"The squids, the sardines, anchovies, the mackerel are moving out to colder, darker waters," said Westberg.

Younger seals may not have the knowhow to seek a new feeding ground, and they end up starving.

In July, SeaWorld released several of the rehabilitated fur seals back into the ocean. Two of them were equipped with satellite transmitters.

"With that, we can figure out water temperatures, where these animals are diving and how deep these animals are diving. With all of this data, hopefully this will help this threatened species," said Westberg.

Hunting brought the fur seals to near extinction in the 1800s, but it had been slowly recovering.

The current population is about 10,000.