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Wild Sea Lion Pup Kidnapped from LA Shores

Apr 20, 2015 11:54 AM EDT
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Los Angeles police were contacted after someone witnessed a group of people harassing a pair of stranded sea lion pups near a beach parking lot early Sunday morning. The witness claimed that after throwing trash and even a cinder block at the poor animals, a woman in the group took one of the pups away.

Thankfully, according to the Los Angeles Times, the witness says that neither of the animals were hurt. It may have been that the group, all speculated to be in their early 20s, were trying to scare the animals away from the Dockweiler State Beach parking lot, in Playa del Rey, and back into local waters. However, after one woman in the group wrapped a pup in a comforter and loaded it into her car (identified as a dark colored Honda Civic), the witness - who had been collecting trash in the area around 3 am - contacted police.

Federal law prohibits the harassment, hunting, or capture of these animals, and the 'pupnappers' in question could be facing up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine.

They could be in for a painful surprise as well, as sea lions traditionally do not domesticate well, and do not make good pets.

"They (sea lions) have a bite 10 times greater than a pit bull," Pete Wallerstein, of Marine Animal Rescue, told the local City News Service. "Someone may have gotten bitten."

Wallerstein told local media that he arrived at the scene a little after 3:30 am that same morning and was able to track down and rescue the second pup, which was hiding in a nearby bush. Now the hunt is on for the captured one, with experts from the NOAA heading the investigation, as this is a federal affair.

Stranded pups showing up on California shores isn't exactly unusual. The state used to average a little more than 150 a year after some pups wandered away from the Channel Islands, along the Mexican coastline, out of hunger or simple curiosity. However, by 2013 the NOAA declared an "unusual mortality event" after 542 of the animals showed up starving on Los Angeles' coasts alone. These numbers have not abated since, with the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, within the Golden Gate National Parks, having already rescued 120 pups in the first five weeks of 2015. Last year the center didn't treat 100 pups until April. (Scroll to read on...)

Wallerstein told the Times that his numbers are even higher. Last year he rescued 294 marine mammals, most of them sea lions. This year, he's already up to 321 - again, the great majority being starving pups.

Some experts are saying that this may be a natural occurrence, in that there just isn't enough food in the Pacific Ocean to support a sea lion population greater than the current 300,000 estimate. Pups starving en masse then, is just one way the mammals might be regulating their numbers - with mothers abandoning their charges after not finding enough food to bring back to the Channel.

However, food supplies may be depleting as well, with warming waters and the infamous Blob off California's coast resulting in a dramatic loss of Pacific productivity.

"These animals (sea lions) are an important puzzle piece for us," Justin Viezbicke, the stranding network coordinator for NOAA Fisheries in California, told local media.

He added that the NOAA will continue to investigate how these pups may fit into the greater picture of a changing world.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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