World Bulletin / News Desk
The strandings of a record number of sea lion pups along the California coast this year are linked to a puzzling weather pattern that has warmed their Pacific Ocean habitat and likely impacted fish populations they rely on for food, federal scientists said on Wednesday.
Some 940 stranded sea lions, mostly pups, have been treated by marine mammal centers in California so far this year, according to Justin Viezbicke, West Coast Stranding Coordinator for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
That is well above the 240 strandings typically seen through April, and scientists suspect the emaciated pups are prematurely leaving Southern California sea lion rookeries to seek food on their own after their mothers failed to return swiftly from hunting trips to nurse.
"These little pups, so desperate and so thin, are leaving the rookeries long before they're capable of hunting effectively," said Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which has treated 220 stranded animals. "It's alarming because we haven't seen this number of stranded pups this early in 40 years."
The strandings are unusual because the pups, born last June, aren't supposed to be completely weaned until May.
Satellite data show sea lion mothers are foraging in traditional hunting grounds, but likely spending longer periods away, said Sharon Melin, a biologist with NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle.
Fish populations are likely being disrupted by a layer of ocean water, some 100 meters (330 feet) deep, that is 2 to 5 degrees warmer than usual this time of year along the Pacific Coast from Baja to Alaska's Aleutian Islands, said NOAA climatologist Nate Mantua.
The change was caused by a weather pattern involving weak northern and strong southern winds that are creating warmer-than-normal conditions.
It's unclear how many stranded animals will die among the 300,000-strong sea lion population. In 2013, some 70 percent of nursing pups perished in what NOAA declared an "unusual mortality event" linked to strandings.
Melin said pups checked on San Miquel Island this month were 44 percent below average weight at seven months old, marking the lowest growth rate since scientists began recording such measurements in the 1990s.
Most of the stranded pups have been recovered in Southern California, but the pups also swim or are carried further north, and may eventually turn up in Washington state and Oregon, according to Johnson.
"We're braced for more," Johnson said.
Eggs tainted by the insecticide mostly originate from farms in those two countries but have since been found in 45 nations worldwide, the European health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitisa said last week.
The UN says cholera is a major public health problem in the country with millions of cases registered every year. Last year, the disease claimed 817 lives there, according to the WHO.
The ministerial meeting will include representatives from some 30 countries, according to Canada's minister of environment and climate change, Catherine McKenna.
Cholera is endemic in Nigeria, with a rise in cases during rainy season from April to September, says disease control center
Police officers tested positive for cholera after eating infected food; health minister blames food workers
"Up to September 1, 14 deaths have been reported," the health ministry said in a statement, adding that "the total number of suspected cholera cases stands at 186."
Pharmaceutical company says treatment has more than 80 percent success rate for form of leukemia
Federal agency orders StemImmune to stop injecting vaccine into tumors of cancer patients
565,041 suspected cases of cholera have been recorded in the country since April 27
Unknown health risks include cancer, respiratory diseases, birth defects and reduced cognition
Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock's tests clear eggs, official says
Laboratory tests conducted to ascertain exact cause of deaths in north central Kogi state, health official says
Health official decries lack of funds to fight malaria, appeals for donations to help fight disease
Surge in heroin use, other opioids seen as main reason for increased deaths
A separate 40-year-old male was returned to the zoo in Rajshahi where there are only females.
Millions of eggs have been pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe and dozens of poultry farms closed since the discovery of fipronil, which can be harmful to humans, was made public on August 1.