Death on the beach: thousands of sea lions washed up along West Coast beaches

Dave Masko's picture

FLORENCE, Oregon – The noise stretched like a tight wire through the air as dozens of sea lions gasped for their last breath along central Oregon coast beaches near Florence yesterday. Thus far, scientists estimated that “thousands of sea lions” have washed up at various West coast beach locations due to a bacterial infection that also threatens people and animals.

Sea lions and other sea life at ris

Dead sea lions were found near the world famous “Sea Lion Caves” still featured the usual group of 1,000 or so sea lions sitting on rocks as great waves of the Pacific Ocean created a storm of applause.

According to marine biologists -- at the nearby Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport -- the deceased sea lions and various other marine life, to include thousands of dead starfish, “have tested positive” for leptospirosis.

The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine have examined “dozens of dead animals” and “they showed clear signs of leptospirosis,” that’s viewed as a deadly and communicable disease.

The spread of this disease found in the dead sea lions and other marine life puts human health in danger, say officials.

OSU researchers said “leptospirosis can be virulent,” and noted that there have been more than 100 cases of this rare, and highly transmittable disease, reported to the Centers of Disease Control thus far in 2010. Human who come in contact with these diseased animals can become “infected.”

Officials noted that “transmission to people and animals happens through contact with infected animals’ urine or urine-contaminated soil, water and vegetation.”

Along central Oregon coast beaches – from Florence to Newport – there’s warning signs posted by the decaying bodies of the dead sea lions.

Moreover, the infected sea lions have also washed up along California and Washington State beaches in what’s been called a “massive death on West coast beaches” by the media.

What’s causing this infection in sea life?

While Oregon and other West coast states often report dead sea lions and other marine life over the course of a year, Emilio DeBess, Oregon’s state public health veterinarian, noted that it’s usually only “one or two cases.” DeBess also noted that the disease is treatable with antibiotics, but he did not disclose if possible infections could lead to other health problems in humans.

Jess and Ann Thompson of Florence were walking the beach yesterday when dozens of media photographers were documenting the massive death on the beaches of these infected sea lions.

“It’s just amazing to see the poor animals like this. We were careful to not get to close to the bodies. The stench from them rotting in the sun made us kind of sick,” said the Thompsons.

At the same time, police and U.S. Forest Service officials have been called in to help clear the beaches of people who may encounter these diseased animals.

“People and dogs should stay away from sick or dead sea lions,” said Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute researcher Jim Rice in various local media alerts.

Down in California, sick or dead sea lions are also causing alarm with state health officials asking people to “give the dead animals a wide berth,” especially if they have pets.

Here on the West coast, the fun of taking one’s dog down the beach for a good run is now almost out of the question until the infected animals are cleaned up.

Up the coast in Alaska, there’s also worries about more and more polar bears clinging to melting icebergs as the world’s “global warming” trend continues, and thus Mother Nature causing misery for all who live on this Earth.

Moreover, there’s renewed concerns on both the East and West coasts that numerous species of birds are either disappearing or becoming ill. As the East Coast of the U.S. heats up – some this spring and summer seasons – these birds will either “disappear or become ill,” state officials.

Oregon and California have already faced an outbreak of rogue jellyfish in the Pacific that are “hitching rides on ships that circumnavigate the globe. According to marine biologists, various studies suggest that “almost a quarter of all marine species of these jellyfish and other infected marine life are now in international harbors as “alien transplants,” because of “human-assisted dispersal.”

And, it’s no secret that penguins are in grave peril due to rapid population decline caused by global warming.

Overall, the news is very bad for the world when it comes to the current state of the oceans and its sea life. Scientists see a notable shift in the “composition of coastal marine animal communities, caused in part by changing ocean temperatures and human population growth and the resulting pollution of the oceans.

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