By the edhat staff
A Santa Barbara-based marine rescue organization is reporting an influx of sick sea lions along the Central Coast.
The Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) stated on Instagram they have been “inundated” with reports of sea lions in distress. The calls started about a week ago and the CIMWI volunteer team has been working from sunrise to sunset to respond to each report, estimating 50-100 calls a day with multiple reports on individual animals.
“It appears Domoic Acid (DA) poisoning is the cause. Domoic Acid is a potent neurotoxin naturally produced in phytoplankton (tiny floating plants) by the algal diatom genus Pseudo-nitzschia,” CIMWI stated.
Domoic acid is a kainic acid-type neurotoxin that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning. It is produced by algae and accumulates in shellfish, sardines, and anchovies. When sea lions, otters, cetaceans, humans, and other predators eat contaminated animals, poisoning may occur.
Domoic acid attacks the brain and the heart causing seizures and heart failure. If left untreated, it usually causes permanent brain damage. The toxin will naturally flush from an animal’s system over time, but sea lions repeatedly exposed to the toxin will suffer longer-lasting and more serious effects.
Affected sea lion (Photo: CIMWI)
“The influx of animals experiencing the effects of Domoic Acid have been adult female California sea lions weighing 150-200 pounds,” CIMWI stated.
To provide supportive care and treatment, CIMWI would need to remove these animals from the beach. Rescuing and transporting a marine mammal for care is stressful and the additional stress may affect the immediate survival of animals presenting with signs of DA, the rescue stated.
‘When possible and appropriate, CIMWI leaves marine mammals suspected of having Domoic Acid on the beach in a safety perimeter to give the animal space and time to work through the acute phase of the toxin. CIMWI volunteers check on marine mammals presenting with signs of DA to monitor the animal’s condition and provide further assessment of the individual situation which may lead to CIMWI’s decision to intervene and rescue the animal,” they said.
Anyone who encounters a marine mammal in distress is asked to keep their distance (at least 50 feet) and call the institute hotline to report the situation 805- 567-1505.
CIMWI asks people to be patient as their volunteer organization is stretched thin responding to each of these reports, watching over these animals and spending time educating beachgoers.