I have mostly avoided talking about wildlife rescue to this point -- mostly because I didn't want cute photos of baby animals to distract from the fact that they are wild and should not be considered pets. However, the current sea lion crisis we are facing is so unprecedented, I felt compelled to share.
To give some context, in a normal year we tend to start rescuing marine mammals around mid-winter heading into spring. These are not newborn animals, mind you, but adolescent seals and sea lions that were born last summer -- and should be well on their way to being full grown. This year, calls at another rehab facility started trickling in mid January and they quickly reached capacity for rescues.
My first day of rescue this season was emotional and overwhelming. On any given day we have one staff member on their own, with help from a handful of volunteers. When I arrived for my shift, there were already two sea lions taken in from the morning, emaciated and desperately under-weight. We had over 50 missed calls from all over Malibu, with sightings of malnourished sea lions all along the coast. Over the course of my nine hour shift, we went on to rescue an additional four sea lions only to return to our headquarters to find over 90 missed calls and our voicemail box was full. We just don't have the space or resources to save them all.
A few weeks have gone by and our facility is also approaching full capacity.
While there are several reasons why sea lions are suffering so terribly this year, the main reason is food. There is simply not enough along the coast and the parents are leaving young for far too long to travel farther out from the coast looking for food. We are seeing pups almost a year old that are washing up weighing around 20 pounds, when they should be close to 80 pounds.
In 2013, a state of emergency was declared during a similar crisis. Sadly, this year we are on track to eclipse those numbers, and no such emergency has yet been declared.
How can you help us?
If you see a marine mammal in need of assistance, please do not approach and call your nearest wildlife rescue group. It is illegal to move or transport an animal that is under protection of The Marine Protection Act. Our emergency hotline for the Malibu, CA area is 310-458-9453.
Do not chase the animal back into the water. Please keep your dogs on leash for that reason. These animals are severely underweight and too young to spend time in the water. Their weakness could cause them to drown, catch hypothermia, or be taken by a predator. Their chance at survival significantly lowers.
Donate time, money or resources. Most wildlife centers rely heavilly on volunteers. Find one near you that you could spend time at. Even the ability to show up, do some dishes, and change the laundry significantly helps us from falling behind. If you are unable to volunteer, donating supplies or making a contribution helps us or any other center stay a float.
I'd like to showcase the two apps I've found that make it easy to compare products so that I can pick the companies that put healthy ingredients and the environment first. Knowing that your products are chemical-free and cruelty-free is really the best way to pamper yourself!
The Environmental Working Group has an amazing Skin Deep Cosmetics Database that covers everything from skin care to cleaning products. They analyze the ingredients of products and rate how healthy they are for you. The more bad ingredients, the higher the score. You can sort the lists to see the best sunscreen, toothpaste, hair dye, and so on. EWG also has a mobile version which has a bar code scanner so you can test your products on the go.
Leaping Bunny is the organization the certifies cruelty-free products. You may recognize their bunny logo from certain labels of various beauty products and cosmetics. This site has a great shopping guide which shows you all the companies that have been certified by year and by category, and they also have an app version.
Companies have to re-qualify annually, so it's important to keep up to date. I've noticed some of my favorite companies that used to be cruelty-free now source materials that aren't, and recently lost their certification. But finding a replacement has never been easier with these tools.