Sick sea lions swamp LA recovery center

The Associated Press
Thursday April 18, 2002

LOS ANGELES — More than 30 sick and dying sea lions have swamped a San Pedro marine mammal recovery center, where workers are struggling to care for the apparent victims of a naturally occurring neurotoxin. 

Recovery workers at the Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur have treated at least 33 sea lions, many pregnant, since March 17. The majority have responded to treatment, including medicine for seizures believed brought on by the toxin, called domoic acid. 

“I have been here nine years and I have never seen anything like this,” said Jackie Jaakola, the center’s director. 

Scientists suspect the sea lions became ill after eating anchovies and sardines that have dined on blooms of algae that contain the toxin. 

Domoic acid is believed to have killed dozens of common dolphins in recent weeks and has led the state to warn against eating sport-caught fish and shellfish from the Monterey Bay and Morro Bay areas. 

“I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but the animals keep coming in dead,” said Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Long Beach. 

In the last month, as many as 50 sea lions suffering from seizures have been found on beaches between Santa Barbara and San Diego counties, Cordaro estimated. 

Rescue workers are now performing triage on the sea lions, leaving all but the most ill where they are found for at least 48 hours before bringing them in for treatment.