John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The creatures appear to be desperately in need of food.
Yesterday, animal-rescue workers netted a sea-lion pup holed up under a car in San Francisco's Marina District.
"Rubbish," as the critter's named, is now safe and chilling in a pool at the Marine Mammal Center. It's his second time there, having been rescued once before just a couple months ago. Since his last visit, the animal has lost a significant amount of weight and looks to be malnourished.
This is at least the second young sea lion of 2015 to venture into the city's streets. In February, a yearling was rescued from a lake about half a mile away from the Pacific Ocean. That little guy, called "Persevero," was reportedly underweight by 50 pounds. A park ranger quoted by ABC 7 said, "It definitely looked scared and definitely looked thin."
The Marine Mammal Center says it's taken in roughly 1,100 animals this year—"more patients than we did during the entirety of 2014, and we are on pace to break every record set in our 40 years." So what's behind this troubling uptick in rescues?
It's partly due to a scarcity of food. Abnormally warm ocean-surface temperatures are thinning or driving away many of their favorite prey. Overfishing is also playing a role, with sardine populations plummeting 72 percent since 2006. That's left sea lions and other large predators scrambling to find grub, even if it means crossing a dang highway.
The situation might not get better anytime soon. Here's a depressing view of the future from NBC Bay Area:
Rubbish is one of 1,800 or more California sea lion pups that have been stranded along the coast of California in the first four months of 2015 year because of a drastically warming ocean and a dwindling food supply, according to a March study released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"In the first four months of 2015, we have rescued more animals than we rescued during the entirety of 2014," said Dr. Shawn Johnson, the [marine] center's chief veterinarian. "What’s scary is that we don't know when this will end. This could be the new normal—a changed environment that we're dealing with now."
Look who was caught wandering around the streets of San Francisco this morning... Apparently he's a repeat offender! pic.twitter.com/CaBRSXsONJ— Amy Hollyfield (@amyhollyfield) April 30, 2015