NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA) — An ocean heatwave that’s warming up the west coast and endangering marine animals appears to be back once again.
“It caused mass havoc among the sea lions and other marine mammal life,” Peter Chang, CEO of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, said.
Back in 2015 when the first marine heatwave known as “The Blob” struck the west coast, a swath of water that was 5-7 degrees above average killed the small fish that sea lions and seals feed on causing hundreds of emaciated pups to wash ashore.
Chang said the center was only able to rescue and rehabilitate 600 of the animals — a drastic increase from the 200 mammals the center sees in an average year.
“Our worst fear is another 2015,” Chang said.
To treat as many animals as possible, the center was forced to triage the sick sea lions and seals in Huntington Beach, but even then many could not be saved.
“We don’t have the room for these animals where we have to make these tough decisions and leave sick pups just lying there on the beach and feeling really helpless,” he said. “It can’t get worse than that.”
More than 400 miles up the coast, advocates for orphaned wild animals said they were stocking up on cages and enclosures, preparing for another bird die-off like the one that happened back in 2015.
“We’re looking at a lot of really bad things that could happen in the ocean,” Emily Jeffers, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “For one, there could be a lot of fish die-offs, and that has ramifications throughout the food web. We saw sea lions dead and starving on the beaches.”
Chang said the marine heatwave was a warning for a much larger change in the climate.
“The animals are just the canary in the coal mines,” he said. “What’s happening to them is going to eventually happen to us.”
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is run by volunteers with money from donations and said every little bit helps. But, beyond that, Chang said people should simply be more aware of their impact on the environment.