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Sea lions battling deadly disease across Southern California Coast


SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Off the coast of a Summerland beach lies a California sea lion in distress.

“She’s suffering from domoic acid toxicosis. she is having mild seizures. her eyes are twitching and bulging. And she has a lot of foam coming from her mouth. These are typical symptoms we see with this illness," said Jen Levine of Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute.

Levine is leading the rescue team from the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute called CIMWI to save the sick animal.

“We have been seeing animals with very poor prognosis and very high mortality since August 15th," said Levine.

In the last month alone, more than 266 sea lions were found suffering from domoic acid toxicosis locally, a number that hits home for rescuers like Ken Hughes.

“This is the worst outbreak of domoic acid that I have seen … we love them … and it’s really hard on us to see this," said Hughes.

“We’re going to net this animal and give her some sedation. it makes it less stressful for her. and it makes it safer for the rescuers," said Levine.

The team transported the adult female sea lion, referred to as number 175.

"We number them. We don’t name them, because they’re wild animals. These aren’t our pets," said Levine.

She's taken to the CIMWI rehabilitation center for treatment.

Number 175 is not alone anymore.

She’s in good company with other sea lions suffering from the same illness.

“I am also out there with crisis hotline rescue response and … when I say up and down the beaches in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties … we are up and down the beaches from sunrise to sunset," said volunteer veterinarian Jacob Bryan of CIMWI.

Bryan said sea lions are sentinel species, meaning they tell us about the condition of the ocean.

“So with this domoic acid crisis, this actually translates to humans very well, because we can get the same poisoning from eating shellfish," said Bryan.

Bryan said this should be a wake up call for humans to take care of the place these sea creatures call home, the ocean.

“Do things like not litter … not put stuff in the storm drains … because those things all affect the health of our ocean … and that’s the only place these animals have to live," said Levine.

As the sea lions begin recovery, Levine admits they can be a handful, “They’re gregarious … some of them are very rude!"

After all, they are wild by nature.

But she loves the sea lions, and hopes to give each one a chance for a good life.

“It’s just neat to watch them progress through rehabilitation … to becoming big, fat and healthy … and getting to go back to the wild," said Levine.

CIMWI is currently recruiting volunteers willing to help save the sea lions at the rescue center.

For more information on how you can help save the California sea lions, log onto

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Patricia Martellotti

Patricia Martellotti is a reporter for News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Patricia, click here.


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