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Spring algae bloom forces sick sea lions to shore

April 11, 2011 | 10:11 am

A sick sea lion.

Seven ailing sea lions rescued from Santa Monica Bay appeared sicker from seasonal algae-related poisoning than in past years, rescuers said Monday.

The mammals are washing up suffering grand mal seizures, paralysis and foaming from the mouth, said Peter Wallerstein, who supervised the rescues.

Wallerstein said they are suffering from domoic acid poisoning, a neurotoxin produced in large algae blooms off the coast.

"This seems to be a very potent bloom,'' he said.

Domoic acid is a naturally occurring biotoxin found in algae blooms off California's coast and is caused in part from pollutants, such as fertilizers and industrial waste, that wash out to sea. Ocean temperatures and changing currents also are believed to play a role, Wallerstein said.

Marine Animal Rescue has removed 34 sea lions in the last 10 days from beaches in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties, he said.

Sickened dolphins and pelicans also are being found, he said. The group has been able to rehabilitate about half of the stricken animals, Wallerstein said.

The public should stay away from any mammals that wash ashore because they are disoriented and may bite, Wallerstein said.

The public should notify a lifeguard or call (800) 39-WHALE to report a sick animal, he said.

"A lot of people want to put their children near these animals for a photo opportunity,'' Wallerstein said. "but they should just stay away" from them.


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-- Catherine Saillant

Photo: A sick sea lion. Credit: Peter Wallerstein / whalerescueteam.org