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latest news California Wildlife Center Dealing With Toxic Algae Bloom Needs Help

A surge of sick and injured sea creatures pushes the marine mammal care center to its limits, jeopardizing the ability of San Pedro Veterinary Assistance and Food Shelter to provide needed care.

Without more financial help and volunteers, the animals “may not be able to be saved,” the center’s chief executive, John Warner, said at a Thursday news conference in Marina del Rey.

“We need as many resources as possible to continue to care for the animals, the marine mammals that have been dealing with this algal bloom,” he said.

The toxic algal bloom overtook Southern California waters and killed or sickened more than 1,000 marine mammals last month, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

High concentrations of domoic acid – a neurotoxin produced by seaweed Pseudo-nitzschia — have been found in southern and central California waters, according to NOAA and Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System predictions.

Sea lions, dolphins, and even seabirds have fallen ill after eating small fish that eat the algae.

Warner said his organization was grateful for the donations received amid “the largest algae bloom on record”. But even though it’s only July, they’ve gone over budget by $500,000.

At this time last year, the center was caring for 20 marine mammals. At the end of June, 113 such creatures were supported.

Warner said sick and injured marine mammals cared for by the center consumed 50 tonnes of fish last year. He ordered an additional 25 tonnes of food this year, anticipating a greater need due to the risk of an El Niño storm, but those supplies disappeared in mid-June.

This forces him to place two unscheduled orders of 25 tons each.

Warner — flanked by Los Angeles City Council member Traci Park, County Beaches and Harbors Department Director Gary Jones, and staffers from the County Supervisor’s Office Holly Mitchell — demonstrated a 50ft by 50ft temporary overflow shelter along Marina del Rey beach. at Thursday’s press conference.

This staging area provides an outlet for a “maximum” marine mammal care center, which cared for 70 sea lions suffering from domoic acid toxicity in June.

Eight sea lions were recovering in the extra space on Thursday, but it has helped about 35 marine mammals in total since it opened on June 23, Warner said.

After Warner called for more help on June 21, Jones said Mitchell “gave the green light” to the emergency effort and established the sea lion safe zone within 48 hours. Mitchell’s office also provided security during July 4 to ensure bathers would not interfere with recovering animals.

Park’s office also reached out to volunteers through social media and newsletters. Most of the volunteers were locals, including about seven members of Park’s office, staffer Gabby Medina said.

Volunteers serve as watchmen and advise residents to keep their distance from sea lions, avoid taunting them, and keep their dogs on a leash.

“I am especially grateful to local residents who took 6-8 a.m. and 6-8 p.m. shifts to ensure our sea lions were not disturbed,” Warner said.

Warner said the Marine Mammal Care Center employed 17 people and would have been crippled without the help of volunteers. During this algae crisis, he says he easily received help from “at least 150 volunteers”.

In the space of two weeks in June, Warner said his office’s hotline had received more than 1,000 calls, including reports of “grabbing and foaming at the mouth” animals, which he said him, were symptoms of domoic acid poisoning.

Despite these issues, sea lion survival rates were still 60% to 90%, with the understanding that “animals were found in early stages”, he said.

Warner said 120 sea lions have been cared for and rescued at the center since the first full week of June. However, he is unable to put many of them back into the ocean due to lingering algae.

The flowers “normally dissipate four to six weeks after they start,” Warner said, but it’s unclear when the latter will.

Until that happens, Warner said, he will be looking for more help.

Times writer Summer Lin contributed to this report.

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