Sea lions have been causing chaos on California beaches by attacking unsuspecting beachgoers, and scientists think toxic algae is to blame.
Experts have said poisonous algal blooms on the west coast have been causing severe neurological problems among wildlife – while one local described seeing vicious attacks by sea lions looking like they were on ‘a bad acid trip’.
Dr Alissa Deming, of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, warned that being bitten by a sea lion is ‘almost the equivalent of being bit by a bear’.
Domoic acid is a neurotoxin which is transfered up the food chain via fish to larger mammals, causing mass mortalities and sometimes coloring the water crimson – creating a phenomena known as the ‘red tide’.
‘I think it’s very important to let the public know that the best thing they can do for these animals is to give them their space,’ Dr Deming told KTLA.
‘These are wild animals and they’re very sick and they can be startled very easily because they’re kind of out of it.
‘Although they’re really cute and they may seem like they wouldn’t want to hurt you, they could if you shock them, give you a bite and that would be almost the equivalent of being bit by a bear.’
Warning signs have been positioned at the entrances to Dana Strands Beach at Dana Point, encouraging visitors to look out for aggressive sea lions in the area.
A resident from the coastal Californian city of Ventura said she has seen sea lions acting like they are on ‘a bad acid trip’, including one which bit a diver and another which continually knocked a paddleboarder off his board.
‘Just a heads up water people,’ she said. ‘A sea lion attacked the diver cleaning Amandlas bottom today. Bit him up pretty good.
‘He’s ok but….harbor patrol says there is a bacteria in the water affecting the seals like a bad acid trip.
‘We saw one repeatedly knocking a paddleboarder off his board even though the guy was smacking it with his paddle. He barely got away.’
Officials have cautioned people visiting Southern California’s white sandy beaches to make a safe distance – at least 50 feet – from the feral creatures.
The Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI) announced it has taken reports of sea lions biting surfers, divers, and people on the sand, and even charging at dogs.
CIMWI has told visitors not to pour water on the sea lions even if it is hot outside, as this could make worse their ‘compromised state’ and even wind up in a seizure.
They also urged people not to touch the animals in any way, or feed them, harass them, or get too close to take selfies.
CIMWI warned that all of these actions are treated as a federal offense punishable by a penalty of up to $100,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.
‘Keep your distance and your dog’s distance. Stay back 50 feet (four car lengths) for your safety and the health of the animal,’ a spokesperson for the institute said.
Dozens of sea lions and dolphins have washed up on Southern California shores after being overcome by the toxic algae in recent weeks.
CIMWI said it has been receiving 30 to 60 calls about the problem every hour, while responding to 30 animals per day.
In total, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says CIMWI fielded ‘more than 1,000 reports’ between June 8 and June 14.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) June 28, 2023
Toxic algae kills hundreds of dolphins and sea lions on US coast https://t.co/H7wdolm3oO
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) June 21, 2023
Marine mammal rescue organizations have been swamped with reports of sick and dead sea lions and dolphins along the Southern California coast this month, and experts believe a bloom of harmful algae is to blame. https://t.co/dHUH3F4hU9
— ABC News (@ABC) June 27, 2023
Worry that this is a never ending trend.
— Edward Burrow (@PoggEdward) June 28, 2023