A Santa Barbara-based rescue organization says it’s being “inundated” with reports of sick sea lions due to apparent Domoic Acid poisoning.
“The influx of calls started on Monday and our volunteer team has been working from sunrise to sunset to respond to each report and the animals in distress,” the Channel Islands Marine Wildlife Institute said on Instagram. “We are responding to 50-100 calls a day with multiple reports on individual animals.”
Domoic Acid is a neurotoxin that is naturally produced by harmful algal blooms.
“It threatens the health of marine mammals and seabirds and can affect humans through severe as well as long-term low-level exposure through the food web,” the Instagram post reads.
DA attacks the brain and heart, and clinical signs of toxicity include disorientation, agitation, head bobbing and weaving/swaying back and forth, foaming at the mouth, bulging eyes, muscle spasms, seizures, inability to move out of the water, unresponsiveness and even death.
Two sea lions were seen in distress along the coast in Ventura Tuesday, and another one had died.
Ed Castillo, a lifeguard chief with Golden State lifeguards, said he had started getting calls about stranded sea lions on Saturday.
“What was concerning about the call is that the sea lions were acting very strangely, the caller would describe the sea lion as having seizures,” Castillo said. “At that point I knew that we had something go on.”
There is apparently no known cure for DA, but signs of poisoning subside after 72 hours as the toxin is eliminated from the body, officials said.
“Marine mammals are able to successfully forage and survive in the wild based on the dose and their long-term exposure to Domoic Acid,” the institute explained.
Most of the animals experiencing the effects of DA have been adult female California sea lions that weigh between 150 and 200 pounds, according to the institute.
The organization aims to remove the sick animals from the beach. However, transporting them for care can add additional stress and affect the survival of the mammal with signs of DA, so the institute leaves affected animals on the beach in a safe perimeter to “work through the acute phase of the toxin.”
Volunteers then check on the animal and provide further care, which may lead them to have to rescue it.
Anyone who encounters a marine mammal in distress is asked to keep their distance (at least 50 feet) and call the institute hotline to report the situation 805- 567-1505.