Increase in dead, dying marine life on West Coast beaches linked to climate change, vet says

Increase in dead, dying marine life on West Coast beaches linked to climate change, vet says

People look at the carcass of a dead whale that washed up on a beach after dying of unknown causes. Vets and marine mammal rescue groups on the West Coast have noticed an uptick in the number of dead and dying marine life in recent years.

SAUSALITO, Calif. — The number of dead and dying marine life washing up on beaches along the West Coast in recent years is increasing, including Pacific gray whales, seals and sea lions.

Many of the animals are found malnourished and with diseases, according to a news report from KGO.
In the Bay Area, the animals are taken to the Marine Mammal Center for rescue and rehabilitation.

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The hospital’s lead veterinarian, Dr. Cara Fields, told the radio station there’s been a rise in the number of animals needing help, from 600 to 800 a year, on average, to more than 800 the past five years and many hundreds more than that during some years.

Fields said many of the animals can’t find food and are starving.

"The state of the ocean is definitely in peril, she told KGO. "These animals are incredible sentinels for what's happening on the bigger, broader picture."

As climate change contributes to warming oceans, traditional food sources for marine life such as whales and seals is harder to come by, experts say.

The animals the center rescues have various illnesses from pneumonia to infections and even cancer, KGO reported.

"The problems that the animals come in with are an indicator of what's happening in the ocean and some of that is driven by climate change," Fields said. "So, changes to prey availability, for example, can be driven by changes in water temperature, which is a direct reflection of climate activity."

Humans are eating some of the same food that sick marine mammals ingest.

“If the animals are unhealthy from eating the food they normally eat, we eat that too," Fields said. "So, we run the risk of becoming sick from some of these things as well.”

Fields told KGO that little things, like beach cleanups and reduction in the use of plastics, can make a big difference. Once hundreds of people are engaged in these activities, big changes can occur, she said.

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