Starving Sea Lions Overwhelm California Rescue Centers

A record-setting number of starving sea lion pups are packing marine care centers in California.

An average of more than 200 sea lions are typically found stranded statewide from January to April. This year, however, more than 900 sea lions have been rescued - and that number was expected to rise.

The marine care centers said today they've gotten so full that they now can handle just three rescues a day. The rest of the pups have to be turned away.

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"The reality of the situation is many of these animals are going to be left on the beach for observation. We're going to be working closely with the rescue agencies to bring in the animals that we feel have the best chance of survival and do our best to treat as many of them as we can," said David Bard, the operations director of the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, California. "We won't be able to save all of them."

Bard said resources behind rescuing the animals and then caring for them in care centers were "fairly taxed."

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The pups, thin and desperate for food and clinging to life, have been winding up alone on beaches and even in apartment complexes along the coastline.

Last week, a young sea lion likely looking for food was found on a major San Francisco roadway, more than 1,000 feet from the ocean.

Peter Wallerstein, director of Los Angeles County's Marine Animal Rescue project, spent today responding to call after call about stranded sea lions. He said rescuers' hands were tied.

"[Centers are] just so overwhelmed with sea lion pups," Wallerstein said. "It's like a paramedic without a hospital to take a patient. It's tough for us."

Experts said they believed the warmer-than-average ocean temperatures might be affecting the animals' food supply.

"Most of these animals need to have several more pounds on them than what we are seeing," Bard said.