The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization has declared the stranding of 80 Guadalupe fur seals an ‘unusual mortality event’.
Typically, the Guadalupe fur seals, a seal species that breeds on the Guadalupe Island in the close vicinity of Baja California, Mexico and survives long time in the water without approaching shore too often, have been turning out in unusual numbers on the Californian coastline.
According to scientists alarmed by this unusually high number of stranded Guadalupe fur seals, this is a devastating side effect of ocean temperature rising. The seals have washed ashore the Californian coastline emaciated. Ever since January, the number has been growing to at least 80. Of these, the majority were pups.
Upon reaching them, federal authorities have found a total of 42 dead, 38 were found alive and only 16 could be brought back to their natural habitat, while the rest also died. The numbers were released on Wednesday by Justin Viezbicke, who is the West Coast marine mammal strandings coordinator for the NOAA Fisheries. The majority of Guadalupe fur seals have been found stranded in the Monterey area, the San Mateo area, as well as the San Francisco area.
Guadalupe fur seals strandings are not an unusual occurrence per se. On average, 10 strandings are registered every year. However, 80 strandings and counting is too large a number to not require immediate acknowledgement and action.
By declaring the occurrence an ‘unusual mortality event’, NOAA is aiming at involving more scientists in the process of investigating the Guadalupe fur seals, their environment and the threats they face. Hopefully, more funding will also be funneled towards this project.
The Guadalupe fur seals are not the only species that have experienced mass strandings this year. Sea lions are also threatened by the warming ocean water. In the case of the seals, scientists believe that as the Pacific Ocean is warming, their feeding stock is moving further north, forcing the Guadalupe fur seals to follow or strand emaciated on shore.
According to Toby Garfield, also working with NOAA:
“We think that warm water conditions have really changed the range of quite a few of the forage fish species that the fur seals would be going after”.
During the 1800s, the Guadalupe fur seals were on the brink of extinction. Their inclusion on the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as on the Endangered Species Act has played an important role in bringing the number back to approximately 10,000 individuals.
Photo Credits: marinemammalcenter.org