Dead, sick sea lions and dolphins washing ashore SoCal beaches: What we know

Officials are urging the public to be vigilant at beaches across Southern California amid an influx of sick and dead sea lions and dolphins washing ashore due to a toxic algal bloom.

According to the Marine Mammal Center, it has rescued 47 sea lions with domoic acid in just two weeks. 

The rapid growth of harmful algae along parts of the Southern California coast is suspected to be the cause of death and stranding for the sea lions and dolphins. 

"The Center is dealing with an enormous increase in reports of marine mammals in distress each day," said John Warner, CEO of the Marine Mammal Care Center based in San Pedro. 

"We are doing the best we can to keep up with the intense pace, and, if history is any indication, we can expect to see anywhere from 75 to 150 animals in need of rescue over the next four to six weeks."

In response, the Los Angeles Unified School District is providing temporary outdoor space for the center to expand its triage care for sea lions.

Deceased dolphin as a result of domoic acid poisoning. Credit: Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute 

The toxic algae produces a neurotoxin called domoic acid, which accumulates in fish such as sardines, anchovies, and squid. The toxin then transfers to predators such as sea lions and birds that prey on the fish — causing seizures, brain damage, and sometimes death. 

According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), domoic acid, a harmful algal toxin, is one of the foremost threats to marine animals. Sea lions with domoic acid often suffer from seizures, dehydration, severe vomiting, aggressive behavior or lethargic unresponsiveness, miscarriages, and even death. 

If you see a sick or injured marine mammal at the beach, you can report it by calling the MMCC Rescue Hotline at 1-800-39-WHALE. 

You can also call the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-866-767-6114. If you are in Orange County, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center can be reached at 949-594-3050.

The public should not approach the animal due to domoic acid posing a "very serious public health and safety risk."

"Adult seals and sea lions with DA can present in unpredictable ways, including increased aggressiveness or lethargy and unresponsiveness. Please keep your distance from animals you see on the beach and immediately call us if you suspect an animal is in distress."

The Marine Mammal Center is the only year-round hospital for marine mammals in Los Angeles County. Donations to the nonprofit ca be made at