Best of our wild blogs: 19 Feb 15

Checking up on a rare mangrove tree at Pasir Ris
from wild shores of singapore

Back to long lost shore at Marina East
from wonderful creation

Extensive coastal works at the 'Lost Coast'
from wild shores of singapore

Sampling of sea water on Northern shores for algal blooms
from wild shores of singapore

Arkive’s Chinese New Year Celebration
from ARKive blog

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Malaysia: Say No to Wild Meat This Festive Season

WWF-Malaysia 16 Feb 15;

16 Feb 2015, Kuching: This Lunar New Year, World Wide Fund for Nature - Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) is calling on the public to avoid consuming wild or exotic meat. Even though some wild meat is considered a special culinary delight by some, it is illegal in Sarawak to buy or sell wild meat in any form.

WWF-Malaysia Head of Conservation for Sarawak Dr Henry Chan would like to particularly highlight the selling of soft-shelled or freshwater turtles in the Padungan area in the city which has been going on for several weeks now and on daily basis.

This is because all soft-shelled turtles (from the family Tryonychidea), also known by its common name, labi-labi in Bahasa Malaysia are protected species under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998, he said.

It was observed that the number of people selling the soft shell turtles have doubled as the Lunar New Year approaches, he said.

"To our knowledge, the species sold are Asian soft shell turtle and South East Asian box turtle.

"We have informed the sellers on a few occasions that it is an offence to sell wildlife in Sarawak but the sellers seem to be ignoring our advice. Last week, during our CEO Dato' Dionysius Sharma's working visit to Kuching, he and I also advised the sellers to stop selling and release the turtles.

"Instead the sellers tried to convince us that we could buy and release the turtles if we did not wish to eat them," he pointed out.

Dr Chan said buying and releasing the turtles would be equally problematic as this would only create more demand for the animal in the market.

"We also received complaints from the public on the matter and since WWF-Malaysia is a non-governmental organization, we do not have the authority to take action against illegal trading of wildlife," he added.

He said WWF-Malaysia has informed authorities concerned namely Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) and Kuching City South Council (MBKS) on the matter last month as it is an offence to sell wild meat.

He said the organization also received other information of soft-shelled turtles and other wild meat being sold in other parts of Sarawak via the social media.

WWF-Malaysia hoped that authorities concerned would take necessary actions against those supplying, selling and buying the wild meat.

Urging the public to do their part for conservation by not consuming turtle meat, Dr Chan said there is a special day dedicated for the reptile, World Turtle Day (May 23), aimed at increasing respect and knowledge for the world's oldest creatures.

He explained that human survival depends on the existence of functioning ecosystems, and wildlife is the key that keeps forests alive.

Dr Chan added that animals categorized as protected species under the Wild Life Protection Ordinance 1998 means they are now rare, due to hunting, habitat destruction and cruel pet trade.

A license is needed to keep them as pets, hunt, kill, capture, sell import or export them, or possess any recognizable part of these animals. The penalties for hunting or possessing any of these animals dead or alive, and possessing any of their parts without a license is a fine of RM10,000 and one year imprisonment.

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Malaysia: 100kg turtle may end up in the pot

ANDY CHUA The Star 19 Feb 15;

Endangered species: It took the fisherman almost an hour to reel in the 100kg soft-shell turtle as it put up a struggle.

SIBU: Many fear that an endangered 100kg soft-shell turtle caught by a fisherman in Daro may end up in the cooking pot for a mere RM2,000.

The fisherman who caught the turtle, which is believed to be 50 years old, has said that he plans to sell it in the market here.

The going price is said to be about RM20 a kilo.

“The man plans to sell it but he has not said when he will bring it to Sibu,” said local resident Jelmai Beedih.

He said that if it happened, the turtle would end up in the cooking pot if there was no intervention by the relevant authorities to stop the sale.

He said the turtle was caught using a fishing hook on Tuesday in Daro, which is about three hours from here.

“It took the fishermen almost an hour to reel it in as the turtle put up a struggle.

“In their effort to put the turtle onboard the sampan, several villagers stomped on the belly of the turtle.”

Sarawak Forestry Corporation Sdn Bhd deputy general manager Oswald Braken Tisen said he was alerted by people in Daro that the fisherman wanted to sell the turtle in Sibu for its meat.

“We have sent our men to Sibu to stop him from selling the turtle.

“We also hope the fisherman will surrender it to us," he said.

Braken also called on the public to stop illegal sale of endangered animals by informing his company if they came across anyone selling such turtles or other protected species.

As of yesterday evening, the turtle was still alive and kept by the fisherman.

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Siberian tiger video suggests species is returning to China, conservationists say

Video of a mother tiger and her cubs is a sign the endangered Siberian tiger could be making a comeback in China after it was largely wiped out over 65 year ago

Adam Vaughan The Guardian 19 Feb 15;

A family of rare tigers has been caught on film deep inside China, more than 65 years after the species was largely wiped out in the country.

Conservationists said the video footage of a mother Siberian tiger and her two cubs playing 30km from the Russian border was a sign the endangered species could be making a comeback in China.

The last stronghold of Siberian tigers, or Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica), is in Russia where around 450 are believed to live. They have been spotted before just inside China, but this is the first infrared video evidence of them so far inland, where only paw prints have been recorded previously.

“It’s confirmation they’re re-establishing, they’re not just animals coming in and out [from Russia],” said John Barker, Asian programmes leader at WWF, which recorded the video with a camera trap. He said that all the signs indicated the tigers were breeding in China, though it was too early to say for certain.

“We shouldn’t get hysterical over one video. There’s a long, long road ahead. But the opportunity is there. If the government, civil society and communities can work together, there’s no reason there shouldn’t be a sustainable population of tigers again in China.”

The north-eastern area of China where the tigers were filmed is prime habitat for the species with tens of thousands of kilometres of birch forest. Much of the forest is still intact despite decades of large scale commercial logging, which was accompanied by much of the poaching that drove the tigers from the area, Barker said. China is currently testing a ban on logging in the Heilongjiang province bordering Russia.

“The critical habitat is there. Very often with tigers [globally] the thing you are fighting is just loss of tiger habitat,” said Barker. There are around 3,200 tigers left in the wild globally.

WWF’s conservation efforts to entice Siberian tigers back to China over the last six to seven years have largely focused on bringing back the deer that the tigers prey on.

Shi Quanhua, senior manager of WWF-China’s Asian big cats programme said: “A shortage of prey presented a major threat to wild Amur tigers. We worked to restore the Amur tiger’s prey populations through habitat restoration and anti-poaching efforts.”

Russia is currently conducting its once-a-decade Siberian tiger census, with 2,000 people searching for signs of the animal in the country’s far east. The Russian government hopes to show that numbers in the wild have risen from 450 in 2005 to 600 to ensure the species survival.

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UAE: 75% of coral reefs in the Gulf have been lost

Experts discuss coral reef protection at conference at New York University Abu Dhabi
Sami Zaatari Gulf News 18 Feb 15;

Abu Dhabi: At least 75 per cent of coral reefs in Gulf waters have been lost due to mismanagement of marine resources and global warming, according to statistics revealed on the final day of the Coral Reefs of Arabia Conference held at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD).
“We actually know enough science about [coral] reefs to able to resolve the question, but it’s not a question for science any more. It’s a question of governance, management, human interaction and relationships,” Professor Charles Sheppard of Warwick University said.
Sheppard highlighted how manmade conditions combined with global warming have affected the reefs.

“We’ve got what I call the local group of impacts, all the usual ones, sewage, overfishing, sedimentation, and construction. Added to that we have the global group, acidification and warming caused by the carbon dioxide blankets. I’m often asked which is the most important of all these [in harming the coral reefs] and you just can’t answer that, it depends on what the local pressures are, and when it comes to the global group, I suspect it’s the warming that’s causing the immediate killing [of coral reefs].”

Sheppard recommended that steps be taken to reverse some of the above trends, such as banning landfills in coral reef areas, as well as regulations within the fishing industries, and for scientific research on the issue to be taken seriously and acted on through government policies in order to protect the reefs.

With the loss of coral reefs also comes the loss of species that are dependent on the reefs for their survival, with several species under threat according to Professor John Bartz from the University of Miami.

“Not surprisingly coastal development affected 17 species, then going after that was climate change affecting six species, and then fisheries surprisingly having fewer threats to the species [four species under threat]. Of the coral reef-dependent species, once we do the reassessment [of species under threat] I would imagine that the majority of those are not doing so well, and of course coastal development is the most prevalent threat to the species here [Gulf].”

One method of protection that was raised during the conference was the implementation of marine-protected areas, advocated by Professor Hanneke Van Lavieren, from the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health. She said, “We’ve heard about the multitude of serious threats that the marine environment here faces, both natural and human induced, so the need to protect at least whatever is left makes sense. One of the tools available to do this is marine-protected areas. If well established and managed, then a network of marine protected areas can be quite effective in protecting some parts of our marine environment.”

According to Professor Lavieren, the marine protected areas can be established to protect several different aspects of the marine environment. “They can be established to protect biodiversity, specific species or habitats. They can be established to maintain ecosystem functioning, and they can also provide refuge to a threatened species. More recently we hear more about their role in enhancing the resilience of coastal systems and reducing the risk for disasters.”

More than 20 sites in the UAE have already been designated as marine protected areas according to Lavieren.

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Heat, Pollution, and Skyscrapers Make Cities Have More Thunderstorms

NICK STOCKTON Wired 18 Feb 15;

Ah, city life: The culture! The food! The music! The thunderstorms! Wait, what? Thunderstorms? Yes, that’s right: You can add weather to the list of things that are more exciting in the city than in the sticks.

Ok, not all cities. But in regions like the American south, normal urban attributes like heat, pollution, and tall buildings could stir up more storms. New research examined nearly two decades of meteorological data from Georgia and found thunderstorms were slightly more likely to form over Atlanta than the surrounding rural areas. Through modeling and other research, meteorologists have known about the connection between cities and storms for decades, but this is the first time data has shown the phenomena in action.

During the summer, cumulonimbus clouds ripen like peaches over Georgia and Alabama. These moisture-heavy storms appear on radars as dark, pixellated patterns. Alex Haberlie, a geography doctoral student at Northern Illinois University, used a computer program to find these patterns, then crunched 17 years worth of data. In all, the geographers at Northern Illinois found Atlanta is 5 percent more likely to have a thunderstorm than the surrounding rural area.

“By our count, that’s a couple to three or more storms a year,” Haberlie, the study’s lead author, says. This doesn’t seem like much, but a city’s built infrastructure compounds the effects of any storm. For instance, Atlanta’s catastrophic 2009 floods probably were worsened because all the asphalt and concrete kept the water from seeping into the soil.

“The discovery that urban environments can create their own storms and rainfall: Not new at all,” says J. Marshall Shepherd, a researcher at the University of Georgia who is an expert in urban meteorology. Researchers have long known that cities generally get more rainfall than their surrounding areas. Shepherd says that he and other researchers teased out the relationship between cities and thunderstorms by running models. “Set up studies where you don’t include Atlanta, and some where you do, and lo and behold you can see that taking away the city reduces the rainfall,” he says. Based on research he’s seen, Shepherd says he isn’t surprised by the 5 percent difference between Atlanta and its realm. He expected the number to be upward of 20 percent. But despite his misgivings about the degree of difference shown in the current study’s results, he says what’s really important is that their methods show that these effects are actually happening.

According to Shepherd and Haberlie, these storms are brewed by several factors. First, cities are hotter than surrounding areas. This warm, rising city air creates circulation that mixes with other atmospheric conditions to create thunderheads. Second, tall buildings form a barrier that pushes wind up and around the city. “Upward motion is always good for thunderstorms,” says Haberlie. Finally, pollution particles act like nuclei that water glom onto, creating droplets. In essence, cities get more thunder and rain because they are hot, stale, and dirty.

But you can’t generalize this type of research to every city. Places like New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. are probably also contributing to their own thunderstorms, but because these cities are so close to large bodies of water, it would be hard to tease this out of radar data the way Haberlie and his co-authors did with Atlanta. Research like this could help city managers plan for bigger influxes of water, either by opening up more reservoirs, or coming up with better strategies for flooding. But perhaps most important, there is no telling if this research will result in a long-awaited new verse to the AC/DC classic, “Thunderstruck.”

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Millions at risk from rapid sea rise in swampy Sundarbans

KATY DAIGLE Associated Press Yahoo News 18 Feb 15;

BALI ISLAND, India (AP) — The tiny hut sculpted out of mud at the edge of the sea is barely large enough for Bokul Mondol and his family to lie down in. The water has taken everything else from them, and one day it almost certainly will take this, too.

Saltwater long ago engulfed the 5 acres where Mondol once grew rice and tended fish ponds, as his ancestors had on Bali Island for some 200 years. His thatch-covered hut, built on public land, is the fifth he has had to build in the last five years as the sea creeps in.

"Every year we have to move a little further inland," he said.

Seas are rising more than twice as fast as the global average here in the Sundarbans, a low-lying delta region of about 200 islands in the Bay of Bengal where some 13 million impoverished Indians and Bangladeshis live. Tens of thousands like Mondol have already been left homeless, and scientists predict much of the Sundarbans could be underwater in 15 to 25 years.

That could force a singularly massive exodus of millions of "climate refugees," creating enormous challenges for India and Bangladesh that neither country has prepared for.

"This big-time climate migration is looming on the horizon," said Tapas Paul, a New Delhi-based environmental specialist with the World Bank, which is spending hundreds of millions of dollars assessing and preparing a plan for the Sundarbans region.

"If all the people of the Sundarbans have to migrate, this would be the largest-ever migration in the history of mankind," Paul said. The largest to date occurred during the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, when 10 million people or more migrated from one country to the other.

Mondol has no idea where he would go. His family of six is now entirely dependent on neighbors who have not lost their land. Some days they simply don't eat.

"For 10 years I was fighting with the sea, until finally everything was gone," he says, staring blankly at the water lapping at the muddy coast. "We live in constant fear of flooding. If the island is lost, we will all die."

On their own, the Sundarbans' impoverished residents have little chance of moving before catastrophe hits. Facing constant threats from roving tigers and crocodiles, deadly swarms of giant honeybees and poisonous snakes, they struggle to eke out a living by farming, shrimping, fishing and collecting honey from the forests.

Each year, with crude tools and bare hands, they build mud embankments to keep saltwater and wild animals from invading their crops. And each year swollen rivers, monsoon rains and floods wash many of those banks and mud-packed homes back into the sea.

Most struggle on far less than $1 a day. With 5 million people on the Indian side and 8 million in Bangladesh, the Sundarbans population is far greater than any of the small island nations that also face dire threats from rising sea levels.

Losing the 26,000-square-kilometer (10,000-square-mile) region — an area about the size of Haiti — would also take an environmental toll. The Sundarbans region is teeming with wildlife, including the world's only population of mangrove forest tigers. The freshwater swamps and their tangles of mangrove forests act as a natural buffer protecting India's West Bengal state and Bangladesh from cyclones.

With the warming climate melting polar ice and rising temperatures expanding oceans, seas have been rising globally at an average rate of about 3 millimeters a year — a rate scientists say is likely to speed up. The latest projections suggest seas could rise on average up to about 1 meter (3.3 feet) this century.

That would be bad enough for the Sundarbans, where the highest point is around 3 meters (9.8 feet) and the mean elevation is less than a meter above sea level. But sea rise occurs unevenly across the globe because of factors like wind, ocean currents, tectonic shift and variations in the Earth's gravitational pull. The rate of sea rise in the Sundarbans has been measured at twice the global rate or even higher.

In addition, dams and irrigation systems upstream are trapping sediments that could have built up the river deltas that make up the Sundarbans. Other human activities such as deforestation encourage erosion.

A 2013 study by the Zoological Society of London measured the Sundarbans coastline retreating at about 200 meters (650 feet) a year. The Geological Survey of India says at least 210 square kilometers (81 square miles) of coastline on the Indian side has eroded in the last few decades. At least four islands are underwater and dozens of others have been abandoned due to sea rise and erosion.

Many scientists believe the only long-term solution is for most of the Sundarbans population to leave. That may be not only necessary but environmentally beneficial, giving shorn mangrove forests a chance to regrow and capture river sediment in their tangled, saltwater-tolerant roots.

"The chance of a mass migration, to my mind, is actually pretty high. India is not recognizing it for whatever reason," said Anurag Danda, who leads the World Wildlife Fund's climate change adaptation program in the Sundarbans. "It's a crisis waiting to happen. We are just one event away from seeing large-scale displacement and turning a large number of people into destitutes."

West Bengal is no stranger to mass migration. Kolkata, its capital, has been overrun three times by panicked masses fleeing violence or starvation: during a 1943 famine, the 1947 partition and the 1971 war that created today's Bangladesh.

India, however, has no official plan either to help relocate Sundarbans residents or to protect the region from further ecological decline.

"We need international help. We need national help. We need the help of the people all over the world. We are very late" in addressing the problem, said West Bengal state's minister for emergencies and disaster management, Janab Javed Ahmed Khan. He said West Bengal must work urgently with the Indian and Bangladeshi governments to take action.

Bangladesh is supporting scientists "trying to find out whether it's possible to protect the Sundarbans," said Taibur Rahman, of the Bangladesh government's planning commission. "But we are already experiencing the effects of climate change. The people of the Sundarbans are resilient and have long lived with hardship, but many now are leaving. And we are not yet prepared."

A network of concrete dykes and barriers, like those protecting the Netherlands, offers limited protection to some of the islands in Bangladesh's portion of the Sundarbans. The World Bank is now spending some $200 million to improve those barriers.

Experts worry that politicians will ignore the problem or continue to make traditional promises to build roads, schools and hospital clinics. This could entice more people to the region just when everyone should be moving out.

"We have 15 years ... that's the rough time frame I give for sea level rise to become very difficult and population pressure to become almost unmanageable," said Jayanta Bandopadhyay, an engineer and science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi who has studied the region for years.

Bandopadhyay and other experts say India and Bangladesh should be creating jobs, offering skills training, freeing lands and making urbanization attractive so people will feel empowered to leave.

Even if India musters that kind of political will, planning and funds, persuading people to move will not be easy.

Most families have been living here since the early 1800s, when the British East India Company — which then governed India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for the British Empire — removed huge mangrove forests to allow people to live on and profit from the fertile agricultural land.

Even those who are aware of the threat of rising seas don't want to leave.

"You cannot fight with water," said Sorojit Majhi, a 36-year-old father of four young girls living in a hut crouched behind a crumbling mud embankment. Majhi's ancestral land has also been swallowed by the sea. He admits he's sometimes angry, other times depressed.

"We are scared, but where can we go?" he said. "We cannot fly away like a bird."

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Watch Ocean Acidification in Real Time

New tools and techniques reveal global warming's evil twin at work in seawater
Brian Kahn and Climate Central Scientific American 18 Feb 15;

The depressing task of monitoring ocean acidification just got a little easier. A collection of scientists from Europe, the U.S. and India have developed a technique that could provide the first global and nearly real-time assessment of our rapidly acidifying seas.

Their findings were published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology on Monday, showing how data from satellites that measure salinity and other ocean conditions could be combined to produce a whole new way of monitoring acidification. Currently, scientists rely on ships, buoys, floats and lab tests to track the data and although these disparate pieces can construct a baseline of acidification, there are gaps in coverage.

Oceans are taking in about 90 percent of the excess heat created by human greenhouse gas emissions, but they’re also absorbing some of the carbon dioxide (CO2) itself. According to the European Space Agency, about a quarter of all human CO2 emissions are being taken in by the world’s oceans.

A complex set of chemical processes dissolves that CO2 and turns it into carbonic acid, which dissolves shells and coral, creating a cascade effect that could disrupt entire marine ecosystems. The current rate at which oceans are acidifying has been unseen in 300 million years and the consequences could be costly.

A recent study estimated $1 trillion annually in losses caused by ocean acidification by 2100, if left unmitigated. Some research has looked at “designer” corals and other creatures that could survive more acidic seas but more work needs to be done to figure out just what will thrive (or at least survive) the changing acidity.

The new monitoring techniques can help monitor hot spots such as the Bay of Bengal, the Arctic Ocean and the Caribbean, three places where ocean acidification could have major economic impacts but where little research has been done.

New monitoring efforts may come in particularly useful in the coming months, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there is a risk of major coral bleaching in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans through May, an event that may rival severe bleaching that occurred in 1998 and 2010. Some island nations in the tropical Pacific including Kiribati, Nauru and the Solomon Islands are already seeing ocean conditions that can cause bleaching.

The main culprit is ocean heat, which has been at record levels, but acidity adds to the stress on coral and makes it more susceptible to bleaching.

Satellites are not the only new tools to measure acidification’s impact. Other recent research has also suggested that listening to reefs could be a helpful, cost-effective way to monitor their health. Still others have explored other ocean metrics, such as the concentration of shell-building minerals, as a more accurate way to keep tabs on acidification’s impacts at a local level.

In the end, the choice to use ground observations or satellites isn’t an either/or decision.

“It is now time to evaluate how to make the most of satellite and in situ data to help us understand ocean acidification, and to establish where remotely sensed data can make the best contribution,” Peter Land, lead author of the new study and researcher at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said in a press release accompanying the new study.

This article is reproduced with permission from Climate Central. The article was first published on February 11, 2015.

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Brazil finally gets some rain, but rationing still looms

Jeb Blount PlanetArk 19 Feb 15;

Heavy rains during Brazil's four-and-a-half-day Carnival holiday offered the first relief in months for the country's drought-stricken and economically crucial southeast, but was unlikely to end fears of water and electricity shortages.

A cold front along Brazil's southeastern coast near the two principal cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro brought heavy rains on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to most of the region and the neighboring center-west, home to much of the country's farm belt.

The southeast is Brazil's most populous and economically developed industrial region. The southeast and center-west together produce the bulk of such key Brazilian export crops as soybeans, coffee, sugar and orange juice.

Uncertainty over the drought and its consequences on jobs, public health and overall quality of life have further darkened Brazilians' mood at a time when the economy is struggling and President Dilma Rousseff's popularity is at an all-time low.

Despite the recent rains, precipitation will need to continue at above-average levels for months to refill nearly empty drinking water and hydroelectricity reservoirs to sustainable levels.

Water levels in reservoirs run by Sabesp, which manages most water and sewage services in the state of Sao Paulo, rose 0.8 percent from Tuesday to Wednesday but remained at only 20.4 percent of their total, Sabesp said.

Sabesp's Cantareira reservoir system, which serves many of the nearly 20 million people in metropolitan Sao Paulo, rose 0.6 percent but remains at only 8.9 percent of capacity. The levels remained critically low despite above-average rainfall so far this month in Sao Paulo.

Many Brazilians are hoarding water in apartments, drilling homemade wells and taking other measures to prepare for forced rationing that appeared likely and could leave taps dry for four to five days a week.

Other cities in Brazil's southeast such as Rio face less dire shortages but could also see rationing, according to experts and officials.

Rainfall in eight of 10 agricultural areas monitored by meteorology consultant Somar, which do not include Sao Paulo state, were more than 50 percent below February averages even after recent rains.

Brazilian consumers were expected to be asked to cut electricity use or face rolling blackouts in coming months. Water levels in southeastern and center-west hydrodam reservoirs are at 18.7 percent of maximum, near the lowest levels in at least 16 years.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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Unprecedented sea lion strandings in California linked to warmer Pacific

Mary Papenfuss PlanetArk 19 Feb 15;

The strandings of a record number of sea lion pups along the California coast this year are linked to a puzzling weather pattern that has warmed their Pacific Ocean habitat and likely impacted fish populations they rely on for food, federal scientists said on Wednesday.

Some 940 stranded sea lions, mostly pups, have been treated by marine mammal centers in California so far this year, according to Justin Viezbicke, West Coast Stranding Coordinator for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That is well above the 240 strandings typically seen through April, and scientists suspect the emaciated pups are prematurely leaving Southern California sea lion rookeries to seek food on their own after their mothers failed to return swiftly from hunting trips to nurse.

"These little pups, so desperate and so thin, are leaving the rookeries long before they're capable of hunting effectively," said Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which has treated 220 stranded animals. "It's alarming because we haven't seen this number of stranded pups this early in 40 years."

The strandings are unusual because the pups, born last June, aren't supposed to be completely weaned until May.

Satellite data show sea lion mothers are foraging in traditional hunting grounds, but likely spending longer periods away, said Sharon Melin, a biologist with NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle.

Fish populations are likely being disrupted by a layer of ocean water, some 100 meters (330 feet) deep, that is 2 to 5 degrees warmer than usual this time of year along the Pacific Coast from Baja to Alaska's Aleutian Islands, said NOAA climatologist Nate Mantua.

The change was caused by a weather pattern involving weak northern and strong southern winds that are creating warmer-than-normal conditions.

It's unclear how many stranded animals will die among the 300,000-strong sea lion population. In 2013, some 70 percent of nursing pups perished in what NOAA declared an "unusual mortality event" linked to strandings.

Melin said pups checked on San Miquel Island this month were 44 percent below average weight at seven months old, marking the lowest growth rate since scientists began recording such measurements in the 1990s.

Most of the stranded pups have been recovered in Southern California, but the pups also swim or are carried further north, and may eventually turn up in Washington state and Oregon, according to Johnson.

"We're braced for more," Johnson said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)

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