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Beachgoers use social media to save starving sea lion pups

Rescue centres are struggling to keep up with hundreds of sick and starving sea lion pups washing up along the coast. More than 1,100 pups have been rescued since January from beaches, but also from inside public restrooms, behind buildings and along railroad tracks.

This year more sea lion pups than usual won't live to adulthood, because they are starving on Calif. beaches

Rescue centres are struggling to keep up with hundreds of sick and starving sea lion pups washing up along the California coast. More than 1,100 pups have been rescued since January from beaches, but also from inside public restrooms, behind buildings and along railroad tracks.

And calls for help keep coming. Beachgoers are reaching out to rescuers such as Sea World and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center by phone and social media in attempts to save sick sea lions. Often, the animals are too weak to move. 

It's not unusual to have some sea lions wash up each spring as the pups leave their mothers, but so far, the number of stranded babies is five times greater than in 2013, the worst season in recent memory.

"These animals are coming in really desperate. They're at the end of life. They're in a crisis ... and not all animals are going to make it," said Keith A. Matassa, executive director at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, which is currently rehabilitating 115 sea lion pups.

These sea lions need rescuing, not just a meal. 

Starving and emaciated sea lion pups are washing ashore on California beaches in unprecedented numbers 1:35

The situation is so bad that Sea World suspended its sea lion show to focus on rescue efforts. The theme park has treated 400 pups — more than twice the number it would care for in a typical year — and constructed two temporary pools to house them.

El Nino the suspected culprit

Scientists aren't sure what's causing the crisis, but suspect that warmer waters from this winter's mild El Nino weather pattern are impacting the sea lion birthing grounds along the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast.

The warm water is likely pushing prime sea lion foods — market squid, sardines and anchovies — further north, forcing the mothers to abandon their pups for up to eight days at a time in search of sustenance.

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      On a recent day, in the course of two hours, five suffering animals came into the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. One was brought in by a police officer, three more came in with an animal control team and the fifth was a rescued pup that had been called in by a couple walking along the beach.

      Each incoming pup has its temperature taken and is weighed, measured and given a blood sugar test before the team decides if they can save it.

      Those that make the cut are tube-fed a gruel of pureed herring, Pedialyte, vitamins and milk three or four times a day after starting out with a simple broth of hydrating fluids and dextrose.

      Those that graduate to whole fish are playfully called "feeders" and those that can once more compete for fish tossed into a pool are called "fighters."

      The goal is to get the pups strong enough to swim free again — but the volunteers who nurse them back to health may never know if they make it in the wild.

      With files from The Associated Press

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