More than 200 dead dolphins and sea lions have washed up on beaches in California looking like they were on a “bad acid trip” after being infected with a toxic poison.
Wildlife experts have revealed a poisonous algal blooms is said to have caused devastating neurological problems among the animals after they were found dead or injured on Santa Barbara County beach.
According to volunteers, there are more than 60 reports of the creatures in distress per hour coming in – with one local describing sea lions looking like they were on a “bad acid trip.”
Beached sea lions can appear disoriented and agitated, with symptoms such as head bobbing, foaming at the mouth, seizures and loss of motor skills.
The algae occurs naturally, and episodes of domoic acid poisoning are not uncommon along the California coast, but the current outbreak is unusually severe.
Domoic acid is also a risk to people who eat crustaceans, fish and shellfish that have accumulated elevated levels, according to the California Department of Public Health. It can be fatal if consumed in high doses.
Ruth Dover, a co-founder and managing director of Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute, said: “It’s like the waves of a tsunami keep washing over our local beaches with even more sea lions and dolphins suffering from domoic acid.”
She revealed her organisation has been struggling to keep up with the calls of distressed animals in recent weeks after dozens of sea lions had shown signs of eating domoic acid.
According to the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI), sea lions had been biting divers, surfers, people on the sand and even charging at dogs.
The CIMWI has advised beachgoers to not pour water on the creatures despite the hot temperatures as this could worse their “compromised state” and could lead to seizures.
In addition, people are also being urged not to touch the animals, feed them, harass them, or get too close with the sea lions.
These actions are considered a federal offence and is punishable by a penalty up to $100,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.
A spokesperson for the institute said: “Keep your distance and your dog’s distance. Stay back 50 feet (four car lengths) for your safety and the health of the animal.”
Some of the reports to the organisation have revealed the sea lions have been acting like they’re on a “bad acid trip” with one accused of biting a diver and repeatedly knocking him off his paddleboard.
Justin Greenman, a stranding coordinator with NOAA Fisheries, believes the the “completely overwhelming” wave of dead and sick animals is “one of the largest in memory.”
Justin and Ruth said the tragedy shows no sign of slowing down as the organisations and volunteers are exhausted from trying to save the creatures.
The groups only receive a small amount of funding from government, according to Justin.
He admitted: “[The groups] do receive some federal funding, but that’s really a small drop in the bucket.
“‘But we’ve got a lot of people who’ve devoted so much of their time and their hearts, and it’s started to take its toll.’
‘”Our team members are physically tired and emotionally drained,’ Dover added.
“It is really difficult to watch an animal suffering from domoic acid, and we want to help each and every one of them.”
This article by Liam Buckler was first published by The Mirroron 1 July 2023. Lead Image: Dead dolphins have washed ashore on a beach in California (Image: AP).
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