Sick sea lions land on California beaches. Here’s how to help

The number of sick sea lions found along the Ventura County coast continued to rise on Friday, and rescue groups are asking for the public’s help.

The Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute has reported 61 patients — 45 in Ventura County and 16 in Santa Barbara County — since Aug. 15. As of Friday morning, volunteers were responding to four new reports, said Ruth Dover, chief executive of the center, which rescues marine mammals in both counties.

“The public can help by continuing to educate us and keeping their distance from the animals,” Dover said.

The sea lions, mostly adult females, appeared to be sick from domoic acid poisoning, a toxin naturally found in seaweed.

High levels of the toxin can be harmful to seabirds and mammals. Sea lions can become disoriented and restless. Symptoms include shaking of the head, foam in the mouth, seizures, and loss of motor skills.

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Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute volunteers work to rescue a sick sea lion after the animal was sedated on a beach in Santa Barbara County.

Dover asked for the public’s patience as volunteers respond to the higher than normal number of calls.

“It might take us a little longer to get to each (report) just because we’re responding to so many,” she said. “But we do it for every animal.”

In some cases, volunteers will leave the sea lions on the beach, post signs and monitor the situation throughout the day. Taking sea lions to the center can cause additional stress and worsen their condition, Dover said.

Sometimes the center needs to intervene immediately, she said, but volunteers will try to keep sea lions that show mild symptoms in their natural environment.

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What to do

If a stranded marine mammal is found in Ventura or Santa Barbara counties, call the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute rescue hotline at 805-567-1505. The public should not try to help the animal.

To find a salvage center outside of Ventura County, call the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Coast Beaching Hotline at 1-866-767-6114.

Experts say to stay away from sea lions. The public should not disturb, move, touch or feed the animal. It can be dangerous and violate federal law.

Cheri Carlson covers the environment for the Ventura County Star. Contact her at [email protected] or 805-437-0260.