TILLAMOOK, Ore. – Scientists have been studying sea lions on the Oregon Coast this weekend and warning beachgoers about a disease that many of the animals are carrying.
The bacterial disease has the ability to spread from sea lions to dogs and then on to people. It can be spread through contact with contaminated urine, water, or soil.
Several California sea lions have already been diagnosed with it and some have died. Over the weekend, at least two more sea lions were found dead.
Raw video: Sick sea lion on Cannon Beach
“We are now getting calls for multiple sick or dead sea lions daily, which is higher than normal,” said Rice, an OSU Marine Mammal Institute researcher who works at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “The overall number of sea lions also has risen, so it’s difficult to compare mortality rates from year to year, but certainly we’re seeing an increase in animals that test positive for leptospirosis.”
Rice and his colleagues at the Stranding Network have sent dozens of dead animals to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. And though not all of the animals have tested positive, many showed clear signs of leptospirosis, which raises concern about human health.
Scientists from Oregon State University said there has been a sharp increase recently in the number of sick and dead California sea lions on the coast.
“It can be transferred by direct contact or contact by any of the feces or urine the animal may have left behind. So if you see one of these guys give it a really wide berth, especially if you have a pet with you," warned Keith Chandler, with the Stranding Network.
When humans have the disease, their symptoms are similar to the flu, often including a high fever, chills and intense headaches. In some cases, it can be deadly. The disease is called leptospirosis.
Anyone who notices a beached sea lion is urged to stay far away from it and alert authorities immediately.
Back in 2006, a similar outbreak spread the disease from California to Oregon. Experts at the Marine Mammal Center in California said that every four to five years, there is a surge in the number of sea lions admitted as a result of this bacterial infection that affects the kidneys and can be lethal.