A marine mammal hospital in California has rescued a record number of stranded animals in 2015, prompting concerns about the health of fragile marine ecosystems.
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The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif. announced that it has rescued over 1,740 stranded seals and sea lions in 2015, shattering "nearly ever record in its 40-year history." In 2009, its previous busiest year, the organization rescued 1,631 animals, a record which was broken for the year by October.
Officials say that this year's increase in strandings is likely related to a large swath of warm water in the Pacific Ocean colloquially known as "the blob." Changes in water temperature (which have been exacerbated by this year's exceptionally strong El Nino) have impacted the distribution of fish populations, making it harder for seals to find food.
At times unable to feed themselves, mother seals have accordingly struggled to feed their pups. As a result, many of the stranded seal pups rescued by the Center are half of their regular size, veterinarians say.
"Our rescue trucks continue to arrive day after day with more starving pups in need of our care," Dr. Shawn Johnson, the organization's Director of Veterinary Science, said in a news release.
"As these conditions persist, we're increasingly concerned about what this could mean for the next generation of sea lion pups too."
The organization underscores the need for further research to better understand how both climatological phenomena like the blob and other human-driven factors -- such as pollution and overfishing -- impact marine ecosystems.
Article first appeared on Discovery's blog Dscovrd.