MOSS LANDING, Calif. (CBSLA.com/AP) — California marine scientists are collecting samples from sea mammals around the state in an effort to create a map of toxic hot spots.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel reports that Marine Mammal Center researchers plan to use 10 years of data collected from the stranded sea lions, seals and whales its saved to create a “disease map” of the coastal environment.
Stephanie Hughes, a marine scientist who studies disease in seals, says the creatures are “samplers for the environment.”
Seals and other marine mammals live near humans and eat a lot of the same seafood. They store contaminants from the food in their blubber.
Blubber samples show different contaminants depending on the area — agriculture pesticides in Monterey Bay or flame retardants in San Francisco Bay.
2013 marked one of the gravest years for marine life off the California coast.
In March, a Southern California marine life rescue group declared a state of emergency after witnessing an enormous increase in the number of gravely dehydrated and malnourished sea lion pups.
“We haven’t had this number of animals in 15 years,” Pacific Marine Mammal Center head of development Melissa Sciacca said. “(And) it was a particularly rainy ‘El Nino’ year in 1998.”
In May the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $7,000 grant in order to provide for the medical care of the pups.
Sea lions and seals are both protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, and hundreds of animals have been treated and released back into the breeding population each year by the Marine Mammal Care Center.
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