Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stopped short of dismissing the theory that fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is to blame for a recent rash of beached sea lions around Southern California.
"Radiation is being looked at, just like everything else. We haven't ruled it out, but we really don't suspect this at all," said Jim Milbury, who works with the agency's National Marine Fisheries Service. "We don't suspect radiation because this would also mean other animals in the ocean would be affected, especially in the oceans of Hawaii, closer to Japan, and we haven't seen any of that."
KNSD-TV reported on Sunday that 1,100 sea lions have washed ashore in beaches stretching from San Diego to Santa Barbara, many of them suffering from malnutrition and other ailments. San Diego county alone has reported 214 beached animals between Jan. 1 and March 21, compared to 32 sea lions washing ashore during the same period in 2012.
The NOAA was allowed to declare the pattern an "Unusual Mortality Effect," clearing the way for it to open an investigation into the issue. Among the factors being considered are dehydration, infectious disease, polution and lack of available food, which Milbury said poses more potential danger to younger sea lions.
"For some unknown reason that we're still researching, their food prey has moved to another location in the ocean and the sea lion pups can't get to it," he told the station.
Watch KNSD's report on the rise in beached sea lions, aired April 7, 2013, below.
View more videos at: http://nbcsandiego.com.