SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- The oceanside rocks and beaches of the Bay Area are often populated by sea lions warming in the sun. But rarely, if ever, are the mammals found traveling along city streets.
On Wednesday, a young and emaciated sea lion was rescued from Skyline Boulevard, a major San Francisco thoroughfare. The yearling was 1,000 feet from the ocean and more than 50 pounds under weight. The two numbers are a testament to the desperation that are driving hundreds of young sea lions, sick and starving, to California's beaches this winter.
"These pups come in very underweight, and malnourished," Yvette Koth told the San Francisco Chronicle. Koth is a spokesperson for the Marine Mammal Center, which has shouldered much of the rescue duty in Northern California.
"Just in the last 10 days, we've gotten 100 pups in," Koth said. "Normally during this time of year, we shouldn't see any sea lion pups at all because they should be nursing in the Channel Islands."
Last month, more than 250 sea lions were rescued from California beaches. Wildlife officials say it's the worst start to the winter they've ever seen -- worse than 2013, the year that more than 1,500 sea lions were stranded on beaches over the course of 12 months.
Researchers aren't exactly sure what's driving these desperate young seals -- aside from the obvious want of food. Some say unseasonably warm waters are forcing mothers to travel farther away to hunt for food, leaving their young for longer periods of time.
"The pups are desperate and starving, so they just jump in the water and swim and get pulled to the coastline," Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary medicine at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, told the Chronicle. "They're just too small and too weak to dive and catch fish."
Others suggest the phenomenon is simply the result of a marine mammal population that has bred too prolifically in recent years -- sea lions having reached carrying capacity in recent years.