Experts believe the pups weren't able to get enough food in the wild after they were weaned from their mothers

By Kelli Bender
July 09, 2019 04:16 PM
Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

California sea lions have friends coast to coast.

According to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, marine rescues are struggling to handling a surprising influx of sick California sea lions and their malnourished pups. Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) in Santa Barbara, California, is working to care for 55 weak sea lion pups right now.

Everyone at CIMWI has their hands and flippers full, so Shedd, a partner aquarium, is providing the “animal care experts, veterinarians, vet techs and volunteers” working to save these baby animals with some much needed assistance.

“Our work is changing by the hour, and days are filled with several duties from prepping fish and facilitating feedings to performing checkups and administering medicine,” said Sage Rosenbrock, veterinary technician at Shedd Aquarium, in a statement obtained by PEOPLE about her time in California. “By providing daily care for the rescued, non-releasable sea lions in our care at the aquarium, we’re able to apply this same knowledge and skill set to assist with the rehabilitation of these pups.”

Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Shedd Aquarium and CIMWI hope to rehabilitate and release all of the pups back into the wild. The animal care experts at these facilities believe the pups at CIMWI may have had trouble finding the food they needed in the wild after weaning from their mothers. CIMWI is putting out the fish buffet for these youngsters so they can build up to a healthy weight.

Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

“It’s all hands-on deck with over 55 pups in our facility, and calls reporting about 10 animals a day along 155 miles of coastline,” said Ruth Dover, director at CIMWI. “Animals in the wild face increasing threats – many a result of human activity – and we are thankful for our dedicated volunteers, staff and partners like Shedd Aquarium who are helping us give these pups and adults a second chance at life.”

Shedd is also helping CIMWI respond to the numerous calls it gets each day from concerned citizens who find ill or injured animals, many of them sea lion pups, on the southern California coast.

Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

“This is an issue that is close to our hearts, having made a home at Shedd over the years for rescued sea lions like Laguna and Cruz. Our animal care team is always ready to grab their waders and medical kits when called upon to support the incredible work of our partners like CIMWI and make a positive impact on behalf of the aquatic world,” Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer at Shedd, added.

Unfortunately, sea lion pups aren’t the only ones having problems. CIMWI has received numerous calls about sick adult sea lions, exhibiting “symptoms like confusion, head bobbing and weaving, lethargy and more due to a condition from high quantities of domoic acid released from toxic algae blooms,” reports a press release from the Shedd Aquarium.

Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

The growth of the algal blooms has increased over the years, likely due to climate change and pollution, causing sea lions to consume more of the “debilitating’ toxin unwittingly. Sea lions who consume low levels of the toxin can recover after 72 hours, especially when they are monitored and protected by animal care experts, but high levels of the toxin can be deadly for some sea lions.

To help Shedd and CIMWI care for these pups, the Chicago aquarium says, “continued support and advocacy on behalf of federal and state-level protections for wildlife is critical to the continued survival of species like California sea lions.”