TODAY   |  March 31, 2013

Stranded and starving: Saving sea lion pups

In Southern California, scientists have found that so many sea lion pups are dying or being stranded ashore, they’re having to ship rescues out of the area, as there is no more space to treat them. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren reports.

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>>> in southern california , scientists have now declared what's being called an unusual mortality event. so many california sea lion pups are dying or being stranded ashore, the rescuers are being shipped out of the area, because there's no more space to treat them. here's kristen dahlgren with what is being done.

>> reporter: in southern california , a massive rescue effort. to save hundreds of starving sea lion pups stranded along the coast.

>> their hypothermic. they're hungry. they're basically starving pups, just so cold, without the body fat --

>> reporter: rescue centers are overflowing with pups coming in so malnourished, they have to be tube fed. and beyond the sad eyes are alarming statistics. last year through march, there were 88 strandings in southern california . so far this year? there have been 948, and the numbers are rising. southern california centers can't keep up, which means they had to ship some animals all the way to northern california , to the marine mammal center in sausalito. at nine months of age, the sea lions should weigh between 60 and 70 pounds. these guys are coming in weighing as little as 18. it's estimated that only about half the pups born last june even made it this far. scientists are trying to figure out why. their best guess is that the sea lions ' food source, anchovies, isn't there this year, forcing moms to go further in their search for food, leaving pups unable to nurse and looking for comfort wherever they can.

>> if you're a young california sea lion , inexperienced being out on your own, you're weak, you're going to find anywhere that seems safe and anywhere that you have the energy to get to.

>> reporter: in the hospital, they're given the nutrition they need with the hopes they'll eventually be released back into the wild . but on the beaches, it is still a struggle. a fight against starvation and a race to rescue all they can. for "today," kristen dahlgren, nbc news, sausalito, california.