LOS ANGELES -- Federal officials say starving sea lion pups are washing up on Southern California beaches at a rate more than five times higher than the historical average, and scientists are still scrambling to figure out why.

Sarah Wilkin with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that since the beginning of the year 1,293 emaciated sea lions have been treated at seven facilities in the state. That's compared to an average of 236 during the same period every year since 2008.

Last month NOAA declared an "unusual mortality event," which allowed more scientists to join the search for the cause.

Wilkin says a leading hypothesis for the strandings is lack of available food but researchers are also performing tests to see if a disease outbreak is to blame.



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