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4 More Dead Sea Lions Wash Up on County Shore

February 05, 1989|MARIA NEWMAN | Times Staff Writer

Four more dead sea lions were reported washed ashore on Orange County beaches Saturday, widening the mystery of the animals' unexplained deaths.

In addition, Friends of the Sea Lion Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach received reports of two more dead sea lions, one south of Laguna Beach and the other at Dana Point, but authorities were not able to verify those reports.

Nevertheless, the sea lion death toll continues to mount at a pace that has perplexed scientists and marine animal experts. Saturday's discoveries push the number of puzzling deaths in the last 2 weeks to 38, even without the unconfirmed reports.

"We haven't seen evidence of bullets or evidence that sharks are getting to them," said Judi Jones of the mammal center. "They're just dead. . . . It's a real puzzle."

Cause of Death Unknown

All but one of the six carcasses found Saturday were badly decomposed, making it difficult to determine their causes of death. Necropsies performed Thursday on two dead sea lions found in Orange County discovered no evidence of bullets, parasitic infections or illnesses, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported.

Three sea lion carcasses were found in Huntington Beach on Saturday morning, said Lifeguard Matt Karl, probably washed ashore by the morning's high tide.

About 9 a.m., a caller reported the first one about a half mile south of the Municipal Pier, Karl said. The other two were found close together, near where the city ends and Bolsa Chica State Beach begins, Karl said, by lifeguards who were patrolling in their jeep.

"We contacted our maintenance people, and they have buried all of them in in the beach already," he said. The lifeguards tried notifying the Marine Fisheries office, but no one there answered the phone. But Karl said the three sea lions "were so badly decomposed . . . that we were unable to tell their cause of death."

"If we would've gotten one that was more recently dead, then we would have saved it for the fisheries people, but we have the OK pretty much to go ahead and bury them when they're like this."

The one in Laguna Beach was found on the beach near Oak Street, said Keith Hall, an animal control officer. It was also badly decomposed.

Jones said her group, which is entirely supported by donations, received a call about a sea lion carcass near Dana Point and another call about another carcass near the mouth of Salt Creek, between Laguna Beach and Dana Point.

"One of our volunteers brought up a really good point--that it could be something toxic," she said. "But if that were true, why aren't the dolphins or fish or other sea life dying too?

"My personal opinion is that it's gill nets," she said referring to fishing nets.

But only one of the dead sea lions to wash ashore recently has been found with a piece of net around its mouth--something that could cast doubt on her theory, she said.

"But since so many of them are so badly decomposed, it's hard to tell," she said.

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