Subject: El Nino forces sea lio (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Wed, 25 Feb 1998 09:30:33 -0500 (EST)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 98 13:40:00 GMT 
Subject: FEATURE-El Nino forces sea lio

FEATURE-El Nino forces sea lions to land on Chile beaches

     By Tiffany Woods
     SAN ANTONIO, Chile, Feb 20 (Reuters) - A fearless sea lion
pup waddles up to a fisherman on the beach, its sad, black eyes
pleading for a scrap of fish.
     But the old man boots the hungry pup away and another
fisherman nearby growls, "If I had a stick of dynamite, I'd
blow them up."
     The southern sea lion pups have become a common sight on the
beaches of this small fishing harbor 68 miles (109 km) west of
Santiago since January. They are victims of the erratic weather
pattern called El Nino.
     El Nino results from an interaction between the surface
layers of the ocean and the overlying atmosphere in the tropical
Pacific. Depending on the region, it can cause droughts or
floods as well as unusually warm ocean currents.
     These warmer waters have pushed fish farther offshore in
search of colder waters, so the parents of the young sea lions
have left them behind to pursue the fish.
     "Theywean them before they normally do, which is usually
between six and 10 months of age," said Jose Luis Brito, head
of a rehabilitation campaign in San Antonio manned by about two
dozen volunteers. "The little ones cannot swim far. They get
weak and fall sick."
     The pups, cold from their lack of blubber, turn to Chile's
beach in search of warmth and rest. Dozens have died.
     "In the 100 kilometers (62 miles) of coast around San
Antonio we have found 107 dead ones," Brito said. "We have
found pups in yards and in the streets where cars pass. We found
two swimming in a freshwater streamlet of the San Pedro River
eating dead fish and we have also found them around the
containers at the port."
     Brito's team nurishes the pups, lets them swim a few hours a
day in a shallow pool and then returns them to the sea. Since
January, they have housed 86 pups and returned 72 of them.
     But money, medicine and fish to feed them are scarce, he
said. The volunteers spend about $100 to $150 a day, excluding
medicine and equipment. The group has launched a campaign to
collect funds.
     But while the young sea lions' stomachs are rumbling, local
fishermen are grumbling. They see the creatures as rivals in
their efforts to put food on their families' tables.
     "In one fishing net, 10, 15, 20 sea lions gather. How many
fish are they going to leave?" asked one fisherman, his crossed
arms defensively resting on his yellow overalls.
     Fisherman probably will not have to complain much longer.
Brito expects the beaching trend to slow down when El Nino is
over, which climate experts expected to occur in April.
     San Antonio's beaches are not the only ones being flooded by
sea lions. Silvia Arancibia, a university professor, said she
counted 30 dead sea lions and dozens of dead sea birds scattered
on the sand while she was on vacation at the Pan de Azucar
National Park, 620 miles (1,000 km) north of Santiago.
 Even farther north, in the Peruvian port of Callao just
outside Lima, two sea lions are being rehabilitated, Brito said,
adding that he is advising the caretakers.
     And sea lions are not the only animals affected by El Nino.
The phenomenom has also caused sea turtles to migrate from
Central American waters to northern and central Chile.
     The turtles, which prefer warmer waters, follow the El Nino
current, Brito said. His volunteers sheltered two stray turtles,
which eventually died.
     El Nino has also caused feeble pelicans to flock to Chile's
coasts in abnormal quantities, he said. At beaches in northern
Chile, pelicans, sea lions and stray dogs fight viciously over
fish scraps that the public throws them.
     Meanwhile, in southern China, fisheries officials suspect El
Nino of causing rare whale beachings in the South China Sea
island province of Hainan this month. And in Alaska, Fish and
Wildlife Service officials said hundreds of thousands of
seabirds have starved to death as warmer waters forced their
food sources deeper into the ocean beyond their reach.