Since the start of the year, the nonprofit animal organization Marine Mammal Center in California has rescued nearly 400 seals and sea lions -- more than ever before in the history of the center, which has rescued over 18,000 marine mammals since it opened in 1975. One of the rescued animals, a young sea lion named Hoppie, made headlines recently after he was discovered nearly a mile from shore in an almond orchard.
According to the center's top veterinarian, Shawn Johnson, stories of malnourished, lost animals like Hoppie are becoming more common because of a "perfect storm" of negative factors: early weaning and increased algal blooms, which likely result from climate change. "There are almost 300,000 sea lions in California, so it could get worse before it gets better," Johnson told National Geographic. "Hopefully the algal bloom will subside soon... There's a worry that if we have a large El Niño this fall, it will have a detrimental effect on our animals."
While it's fantastic that Johnson and his colleagues at the Marine Mammal Center have been able to rescue so many animals, he explained that the center hopes it won't have to continue to be so helpful. "This year has been extraordinary for us," Johnson said. "We're hoping that these numbers will level off and go back to our normal pace for the rest of the year, but it's really hard to predict."