By Donna Littlejohn, Daily Breeze
San Pedro’s Marine Mammal Care Center is set to open its new 300-square-foot enclosure Thursday.
And it’s coming just in time.
This year looks to be a repeat of 2013 and 2014, when starving sea lion pups turned up on beaches in large numbers, taxing the center’s space and resources. Actually, thus far, 2015 seems even worse.
For comparison, by this time last year, the center had admitted 24 animals, said David Bard, executive director of the Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in Angels Gate Park. So far this year, he said the center has brought in 48 animals for treatment.
Scientists are still investigating possible causes for the many pups found suffering from dehydration and malnourishment, dubbed an “unusual mortality event” in 2013 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Many were born on rookeries on the Channel Islands and came ashore in Southern California, straining rehabilitation facilities along the coast.
In 2013, it was believed as many as two-thirds of the sea lion pup population off the coast was wiped out by the occurrence.
“It looks like the distribution of the fish was different enough that the moms who were nursing needed to go farther away and take longer foraging trips,” Bard said.
But this year, he said, there is more diversity among the animals being brought in.
“There was a distinct pattern in 2013 of malnourished (sea lion) pups,” he said. This year, harbor seals and adult animals are also affected. “We’re looking at that and any other red flags so that as we move further into the season we may get more answers.”
Construction on the San Pedro center’s new animal enclosure brings the center’s kennel number up to 15. Typically, one enclosure can comfortably house 15 to 18 small sea lion pups.
Hundreds of sea mammals go through the center every year.
Bard said the center also received grants allowing it to hire nine paid interns this year. The center is looking especially for Harbor Area residents to fill four remaining open positions.
And volunteers are needed, he said.
The public can tour the facility at a ribbon-cutting at 10 a.m. Thursday.
The center has a “wish list” of items it needs at www.marinemammalcare.org, but, in particular, the center could use 25- and 50-foot, heavy-duty hoses to help maintain the new enclosures.
And, Bard said, “We always need financial donations.”
He cautioned the public to report stranded animals but leave animals alone.
“We’re asking them to be hands-off and to keep their distance. … We don’t want the public getting exposed (to disease) or the animals to be taken out of their natural habitats” unnecessarily.
To report a beached animal, call 310-548-5677.