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Toxic Algae Causing Outbreak of Sick Sea Lions on LA Beaches

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After yesterday's Los Angeles Times report of the rescue of seven sick sea lions from the shores of Santa Monica Bay, an eighth ailing sea lion beached itself on the sand near Seaside Walk in Long Beach. Numerous residents witnessed the young Long Beach sea lion experience heavy eye-discharge, epistaxis (a heavy nose bleed), multiple grand mal seizures, and lower body paralysis as the mammal took large gasping breaths with sand stuck to its frothing mouth.

After being unable to locate an on-duty lifeguard around 6 p.m., concerned residents stood watch over the suffering sea lion ensuring that it was left undisturbed, while numerous others called the Long Beach Police, Fire, and Animal Care Services Departments with rescue requests. Callers collectively reported that Animal Care Services was unreachable despite pre-recorded phone options indicating service availability until 8 p.m. and difficulty contacting local fire authorities via a non-911 emergency phone line. Suggesting that the appropriate personnel would be contacted, the Long Beach Police Department phone attendant disclosed receipt of many calls regarding the beached animal. At sunset, after no in-person response from local authorities, a resident used a bottle of water to rinse the foam and blood from the sea lion's face.

A last-ditch effort call was made to at 7 p.m. to Peter Wallerstein at Southern California Marine Animal Rescue (MAR) through the organizations 800-39-WHALE hotline. MAR confirmed rescuing seven sea lions in Los Angeles county on April 11 as part of a recent toxic algae outbreak that is proving to be more harmful to sea animals than in previous years. According to Wallerstein, the convulsing sea lions are experiencing neurotoxin poisoning from domoic acid made by algae bloom affected by agricultural and industrial pollutants that have washed out to sea. Wallerstein warned not to touch beached sea lions as they may bite when frightened and ill.

Although unable to respond to the rescue request because the City of Long Beach does not contract out to outside animal rescue help, Wallerstein was able to offer some much appreciated hopeful information to the residents worried for the sick sea lion: When affected by algae bloom poisoning, beaching gives the sea lions a small chance of recovery because it is much safer for the animals to rest on the beach than in the water as the neurotoxin works its way through the animal's system. The current status of the Long Beach sea lion is unknown.