Spike in Fur Seals Dying Off California Coast

Scientists are looking at ocean-warming trends to figure out why endangered Guadalupe fur seals are stranding themselves and dying in alarming numbers along the central California coast.

Approximately 80 emaciated fur seals have come ashore since January — about eight times more than normal — leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week to declare an “unusual mortality event” for the animals. The classification diverts additional resources to study the animals, which have been traditionally under-researched, officials said.

Researchers will try to determine if the die-off is a result of a disruption in the seal’s feeding patterns from a large-scale warming of the Pacific Ocean, Toby Garfield, an official with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Centre, said Tuesday.

The so-called warm blobs occurring during a persistent high-pressure ridge have grown to cover most of the West Coast and have been previously blamed for discoveries of emaciated young sea lions off California and starving seabirds off Oregon and Washington.

Some of the fish species that fur seals usually eat may have moved farther north to escape the unusually warm waters, Garfield said during a teleconference.

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