If You're Headed to the Beach in California, a Warning

Potentially aggressive sea lions are turning up after being sickened by toxic algae bloom
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 4, 2023 9:16 AM CDT
If You're in Southern California, Beware the Sea Lions
This image shows a dead sea lion washed ashore on a beach in Santa Barbara County, California, on June 20th.   (Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute via AP)

As Americans flock to the shores for the Fourth, a warning has been issued for Southern Californians: Watch out for potentially aggressive sea lions. Dr. Alissa Deming of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center tells NPR that the sea lions, as well as common dolphins, are washing ashore "unaware, dazed, and confused" and having seizures, all due to toxic algae blooms floating off the coast. CNN reports that at least 100 sea lions have been affected thus far, with local agencies pointing to domoic acid, a neurotoxin from the algae blooms, as the culprit.

Deming explains to NPR that the sea lions and dolphins chow down on smaller creatures in the food chain, such as anchovies and sardines, which have the toxin concentrated in their own bodies from eating algae-devouring plankton. The Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles notes that sea lions who are sickened by the toxin often exhibit odd side-to-side head movements and can present as lethargic or aggressive. Indeed, Axios reports that multiple beachgoers and surfers have already been bitten or otherwise attacked, including in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Meanwhile, sick sea lions and dolphins have also turned up in droves further north, including in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Officials in Southern California advise staying at least 50 feet away from any animal on the shore (ie, no selfies). Deming tells NPR that anyone who sees a marine animal in distress should "call the professionals." Two groups to reach out to: the MMCC at 800-39-WHALE (94253), and the California Wildlife Center at 310-458-WILD (9453) for those in Malibu. If you do happen to get bit by a sea lion that's been affected by the algae bloom, you don't have to worry about the neurotoxin transmitting to your body—but Deming still advises you see a doctor ASAP, as other types of bacteria the sea lion may have been harboring could cause an infection. (More sea lions stories.)

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