SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Sick and dying sea lions were spotted on at least two local beaches Thursday; one in Santa Barbara, the other in Ventura.
Peter Howorth, director of the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center, invited NewsChannel 3 along for a rescue Thursday near Sandspit outside the harbor.
It took a large net, a bloody knuckle and a lot of patience to nab the scrawny pup tucked in the rocks at the edge of the breakwater.
"She probably weighs 20 pounds," Howorth estimated." "At nine months, and she is weaned, should weigh 50 pounds or more."
This was Howorth's 179th sea lion rescue since January; in 2012, Howorth says he rescued fewer than 200 sea lions the entire year.
Santa Barbara is a center point in a declared U-M-E -- Unusual Mortality Event -- designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which stretches south to San Diego.
Michelle Berman with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History claims wildlife experts have rescued more than 1,000 sea lions found on beaches in California since January.
Berman says normally, sea lion rescues range between 200 and 300 a year.
The associate curator of vertebrate zoology is quick to add that domoic acid, a naturally occurring toxin, has been detected in some sea lion necropsies and could play a factor in this unprecedented die off.
Both Howorth and Berman suspect an increase in the ocean's temperature is pushing bait fish, like sardines and anchovies, into cooler water farther offshore, thus diminishing the food supply for sea lions along the coast.
Howorth says a record 32,000 seal pups born on San Miguel Island last year hasn't helped the situation.
"Moms weren't getting enough to begin with, giving birth to undersized, underweight pups," Howorth said. "Not enough milk, weaning them sooner, then thrust into the ocean without any food."
Another sea lion was spotted Thursday morning on the beach near Pierpont in Ventura by a NewsChannel 3 viewer. Unfortunately, that mammal was too far gone to save.
Howorth is optimistic that the pup rescued Thursday will have a strong second change at life, after recuperating at his center.
For more information on how to help, contact the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center's hotline at (805) 687-3255.