UPDATE: Ecosystem Breakdown? Spike in Aquatic Animal Deaths Escalates to ‘Epic Proportions’



death long

California sea lion stranding crisis escalates to ‘epic proportions’

The mass stranding of sea lions at Californian shores doesn’t seem stopping anytime soon and condition has deteriorated even more. The stranding(s) spiked in January and have intensified in recent weeks, the numbers have already surpassed total number of an average year. By March 13th, there were 517 pups admitted to marine mammal rehabilitation centers and by April 4, the number has risen to 1100Wired. Authorities still don’t know what is the exact cause of the stranding. NOAA’s marine mammal stranding coordinator for the state of California, Sarah Wilkin said,

“We’re still getting strandings of animals at kind of equal rates to what they had been. We don’t know how long the event is going to go on.”

According to the National Marine Mammal Foundation it is a crisis of epic proportions (CBS8) and announced a challenge grant to help pay for sea lion’s care. Last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for California sea lions in California from January 2013 through the present. NOAA reports live sea lion strandings are nearly three times higher than the historical average.

(Live California sea lion historical stranding rates for 2008-2012 (admits to rehabilitation facilities from Jan 1-March 31). Data for 2013 is as of March 24, 2013. Credits: NOAA)



NOAA assembles team to investigate ailing sea lion pups

Radiation from Japan’s nuclear disaster is being looked at as one possible cause for what some experts are declaring an “unusual mortality event” after hundreds of ailing sea lion pups washed ashore in Southern California. Read more here.

These pups might have weaned themselves early and left their colonies while their mothers were foraging to longer distances for food. As they’re not strong enough to find food on their own, their quest for survival brings them to shore. Many pups now reaching shore are reportedly in even worse condition as compared to those found earlier this year, possibly because they’ve been on their own for longer duration.

Though this stranding is much similar to El Niño’s impact wherein sea lions starve because of food scarcity, researchers are yet to ascertain the accurate cause for such large influx of emaciated sea lions. Investigators are attempting to find out the reason for the same.


Read entire article here.

April 3, 2013
Jeremy Smith


“Unusual Mortality Event” Involving Sea Lion Pups in California

Just 1 of several pens at PMMC showing volume of animals in need (photo courtesy of Keith Matassa)

Just 1 of several pens at PMMC showing volume of animals in need (photo courtesy of Keith Matassa)

In the past few weeks, the Southland Beaches of California have been subject to a barrage of baby sea lions that are mysteriously stranding themselves. Jonsie Ross, a rescuer from the Caifornia Wildlife Center said when interviewed by CBS 2 Los Angeles, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” […] “It just looks like malnutrition to me.” […] “Even if I think people have been prepared, we never would have imagined the numbers that are coming up on the beach.”
A federal agency has declared that more sick and dying sea lion pups have stranded themselves on southern California beaches so far in 2013 than in the previous five years combined, but scientists are still unsure what is afflicting the mammals. It’s gotten so bad in the past two weeks that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an “unusual mortality event.” That will allow more scientists to join the search for the cause”, said Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service based in Seattle. “We anticipate this will get worse when the pups begin to wean from their mothers and have to forage on their own.”

The “unusual mortality event” notice from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released late on Wednesday follows animal rescue groups’ warnings of a large influx of ailing sea lion pups in California.


“Unusual Mortality Event” Involving Dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico800px-Izurde_igeldo_01

WWLTV: [“893 marine mammals were found stranded along the northern Gulf Coast since 2010. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has labeled it an “Unusual Mortality Event.” […]”We are seeing a spike in dolphin strandings,” said Dr. Moby Solangi, executive director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.[…]Since the start of this year, Dr. Solangi said marine mammal strandings have been climbing, with 29 in Louisiana and 23 in Mississippi so far. […] “The unusual part in Mississippi is that 18 of the 23 are baby dolphins,” he said.[…]NOAA is tracking the strandings and their map shows that, in Mississippi and Louisiana, there have been seven dolphin strandings just in the past week alone. The most recent strandings in Louisiana happened in two places — one in Lake Catherine and the other on the beach along Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell.[…]So why are the strandings still happening three years after they started? Answers are tough to come by. Dr. Solangi said because of the ongoing investigation and litigation involving the BP Oil Spill, they can’t share their findings.”We have been advised not to discuss our findings or any results from our necropsies or analysis,” he said.]

young-bottlenose-dolphins-dying-gulf_32714_600x450NOAA: [Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (as amended), an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) has been declared for dolphins and whales (cetaceans) in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Texas/ Louisiana border through Franklin County, FL) from February 2010 through the present.[…] These numbers are preliminary and may be subject to change. As of March 24, 2013, the UME involves 905 Cetacean “strandings” in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (5% stranded alive and 95% stranded dead).

Mysterious Death of Over 100 Brown Pelicans in Brevard County, Florida.

On the east coast of Florida, the deaths of brown pelicans have even the experts searching for answers. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) stated in a recent press release,

“During the past two months, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has received reports of more than 100 dead brown pelicans in Brevard County from Merritt Island to Melbourne. FWC researchers are trying to find out what is killing them.

“The pelicans are emaciated and have heavy parasite counts, and, to our knowledge, other bird species have not been affected,” said Dan Wolf, an FWC researcher.

FWC researchers are assessing specimens and the environment for information that can help identify a potential cause.

Two weeks ago, they sent samples to the National Wildlife Health Center for testing but, so far, there are no definitive answers. Researchers are awaiting results from additional samples sent this week that may determine whether botulism, which is sometimes the cause of die-offs like this, played a role. However, according to Wolf, botulism generally kills its victims quickly, leaving little time for the bird to become emaciated.”



Nanette Notestein of Indian Harbour Beach found this pelican near her home last weekend. It grew weak and died hours later. / Photo by Nanette Notestein

Nanette Notestein of Indian Harbour Beach found this pelican near her home last weekend. It grew weak and died hours later. / Photo by Nanette Notestein

Brown pelicans are large, shore-dwelling birds. They reach sizes up to 48 inches long from head to tail, with a 6-7 foot wingspan and a weight of about 8 pounds. They are long-lived, the oldest individual on record died at 43 years of age.

Florida Today reports, “Many of the dead pelicans have turned up in Cocoa Beach. But others have also been found in Merritt Island, Melbourne, Indian Harbour Beach and the Sebastian River. […] FWC researchers are assessing specimens from the pelican carcasses and the environment to identify a potential cause.”



Massive Spike in Manatee Deaths in Florida


 More than 400 manatees have been killed in Florida waters so far this year. (Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel)

More than 400 manatees have been killed in Florida waters so far this year. (Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel)

Sun Sentinel: Manatee deaths in Florida appear to be on a record pace and could reduce the gentle sea creatures’ overall population to dangerous levels, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report released on Thursday.


In just the first three months of this year, 409 manatees died in Florida waters, compared with 115 in the same period last year. The total number of deaths last year in Florida was 392.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever reached such a high number of manatee deaths this early in the year,” said Jaclyn Lopez, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental non-profit organization based in St. Petersburg. “The overall message is that we need to be doing more to protect or our Florida manatee populations.”

Tampa Bay Times: Even as a Red Tide algae bloom is wiping out a record number of manatees in southwest Florida, a mysterious ailment is killing dozens more manatees on the state’s east coast. So far, state biologists have been unable to pinpoint the cause.

Pat Rose, a former government manatee biologist who is now executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, said he could not recall another time when manatees were being killed in such numbers on both coasts at the same time.

Since last July, 55 manatees showing similar symptoms have died in the Indian River Lagoon area — 25 in just the past month, according to Kevin Baxter, a spokesman for the state’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

The manatees that have turned up dead on the east coast all appeared to have gone into shock and drowned after they “ingested large amounts of macroalgae,” Baxter said. “Our researchers are thinking the deaths are related to some kind of dietary change.”


Wired: Manatees Dying in Droves on Both Coasts of Florida


Environmental Protection: At the [156-mile long] Indian River Lagoon in Florida, several manatees and pelicans have been found dead, most likely due to the algae blooms that are quickly invading the area. With the deaths of these animals, scientists fear this is the beginning of a devastating ecosystem collapse. […] Investigators believe that manatees are eating gracilaria, a red-colored alga, because of the seagrass shortage and because the dead manatees’ stomachs are full of it. Gracilaria isn’t known to be toxic, but scientists are trying to find whether some type of toxin is at work. […] “Because of what’s going on with manatees, we’re on alert,” Megan Stolen, a scientist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, said, according to Spear’s article, which said the institute documented five dolphin deaths in February, up from the month’s average of 2.3 deaths. […]

Dead Sea Turtles Baffle Experts


Loggerhead turtle found dead off of Bonita Beach : WBBH

Loggerhead turtle found dead off of Bonita Beach : WBBH

WBBH : So far this year, 13 dead sea turtles have been reported dead. That’s compared to just 2 sea turtle deaths at this time last year. […] Just Wednesday, a loggerhead and a Kemp’s Ridley were found dead.[…]The female loggerhead was spotted by a boater in fish trap bay in Bonita Springs Wednesday morning. She was picked up by Florida Gulf Coast University researchers and examined by a volunteer at turtle time.[…]Barnacles covered her shell and she seemed underweight; but researchers we spoke with say this many sea turtles shouldn’t be dying.

“When I get that call, I just say, ‘Oh no not another one.’ It’s that sadness, but if it’s an animal like the one we just retrieved, perhaps it will give us some answers through laboratory testing,” said Eve Haverfield, with Turtle Time Inc.[…]”When we got to it, its head was up on the beach. Its head was up and it just looked very lethargic; but unfortunately it had already expired by the time we got up there,” added Bob Wasno, FGCU Vester Marine Field Station Facilities Manager.[…]The sea turtles will be frozen until FWC can pick them up and perform necropsies to determine for certain if red tide is to blame for their deaths.






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