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FAQs on the 2015 Guadalupe Fur Seal UME in California

NOAA Fisheries has declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for Guadalupe fur seal strandings in California.  This event began in January 2015 peaked in April through June and has since lessened.

Q: What is an Unusual Mortality Event?

A: An UME is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response. There are seven criteria used to determine whether a mortality event is "unusual." If the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events (Working Group), a group of marine mammal health experts, determines that an event meets one or more of the criteria, then a recommendation is forwarded to NOAA’s Assistant Administrator for Fisheries to declare an UME.

Q:  What criteria have been met?

A: The Working Group concluded that three of the seven criteria established for designation of an UME has been met.   They concluded Criteria 1, 5 and 6 were met.  These strandings are unusual because there is: a marked increase in the magnitude or a marked change in the nature of morbidity, mortality or strandings when compared with prior records, affected animals exhibit similar or unusual pathologic findings, behavior patterns, clinical signs, or general physical condition, and potentially significant morbidity, mortality or stranding is observed in species, stocks or populations that are particularly vulnerable (e.g., listed as depleted, threatened or endangered or declining). 

Q: How widespread is this UME?

A: Currently, increased strandings of Guadalupe fur seals have been observed along the entire California coast. 

Q: When did the first reports of increased strandings of Guadalupe fur seals occur?

A: The first reported stranding in this event was in January 2015.  Guadalupe fur seal strandings have continued to the present in elevated numbers in 2016 and 2017.  Strandings are seasonal with the peak of stranding generally occurring between April and June each year.

Q: What are the findings in stranded animals?

A: The Guadalupe fur seal strandings have been mostly weaned pups and juveniles (1-2 years old) with both live and dead strandings occurring.  Current findings from the majority of stranded animals include primary malnutrition with secondary bacterial and parasitic infections.

Q: What is the current Guadalupe fur seal population?

A: Guadalupe fur seals are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), in addition to being protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). There is a small rookery of Guadalupe fur seals off of Baja California on San Benito Island and several pups have been documented born off Southern California at San Miguel Island, but their breeding grounds are almost entirely on Guadalupe Island, Mexico. While Guadalupe fur seals may range for hundreds of miles, they are non-migratory.

Guadalupe fur seals were almost hunted to extinction for their fur in the late 1800s. Their population has been slowly recovering thanks in part to the protections provided by the MMPA and ESA.  The most recent U.S. Stock Assessment Report (2000) estimated the minimum population estimate at ~3,000 fur seals in Mexico.  Gallo-Reynoso et al. (2005) estimated a population of over 12,000 animals based on a census at Guadalupe Island in 2003.

A status review for Guadalupe fur seals was last conducted in 1984, which resulted in the decision to list the species as a threatened species.  NMFS-West Coast Region is currently undergoing a status review to update information and determine whether or not the species should be reclassified under the ESA.

Q: Have other marine mammals or animals been affected by this die-off event?

A: This event is occurring in the same area as the ongoing 2013-2015 California sea lion UME.  In that event over 3500 live stranded California sea lions have stranded on beaches in 2015 alone and strandings remained elevated in 2016 and 2017.

Q: What are the next steps in the investigation now that an UME has been declared?

A:  As part of the UME investigation process, an independent team of scientists (Investigative Team) is being assembled to coordinate with the Working Group to review the data collected and to determine potential next steps.  The Investigative Team will develop the investigative plan and will also coordinate its investigation with other on-going UME investigations.  The investigation may require months, or even years of data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Q: What additional resources are now available to pursue the investigation, since an UME has been declared?

A:  An UME declaration provides additional expertise from the Working Group (an international and multi-disciplinary team of scientists), additional partners, and access to additional funding through the UME Contingency Fund.  In addition, a detailed investigative plan for the investigation will now be developed that may include more targeted necropsies; further testing of samples for biotoxins, bacterial or viral agents; and diagnostic pathology services.  Finally, this process will provide national and international scientific review of findings and interpretations.

Q: When will you have some results to share?

A:  The Investigative Team is in the process of developing an investigative plan to collect and test samples from stranded animals. You can track the progress of our investigation from our UME website.

Q: What is the risk to humans?

A:  Guadalupe fur seals are wild animals and may injure people if approached closely.  It is not clear at this time if there is any infectious disease risk to human health through contact with these animals. 

Q: Are there any risks to pets?

A: Pets should always be kept away from live or dead marine mammals on the beach.

Q: How many Guadalupe fur seal UMEs have previously occurred in the United States?

A: This is the second Guadalupe fur seal UME in the United States.  The first UME occurred in Washington and Oregon states in 2007-2009 and involved a total of 29 animals.  The cause of the event was not determined.

Q: Where can I find additional information on Guadalupe fur seals and other UMEs?

A:  You can visit the NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources websites at:

Q: What should people do if they encounter a live or dead Guadalupe fur seal on the beach?

A:   Please immediately contact your local stranding network or local authorities to report a live or dead stranded fur seal (in California call 866-767-6114)

Q: What can I do to help the investigation?

A: Report sightings of stranded animals to 866-767-6114 and let the stranding network evaluate the animal to see if rehabilitation is necessary.  Also as a reminder, just because a fur seal or sea lion is on shore it doesn’t necessarily mean the animal is in need of assistance.

Contact information for the California facilities can be found on our website:

Q: What should people do if they witness harassment of a Guadalupe fur seal in the water or on the beach?

A: To report violations or for more information on NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement call the toll-free number: 1-800-853-1964.

Q: What is the UME Contingency Fund?

A:  The MMPA’s Section 405 (16 USC  1421d) establishes the Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event Fund and describes its purposes and how donations can be made to the Fund.  The fund: “shall be available only for use by the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior:

The National Contingency Plan for Response to Unusual Marine Mammal Mortality Events outlines the types of expenses that are reimbursable under the fund and the process for requesting reimbursement.

Additional information on the UME Contingency fund is available on our UME Contingency Fund website.

Q: How can deposits be made into the UME Contingency Fund?

A: Deposits can be made into Fund by the following:

The public may donate using Pay.gov to the UME Contingency Fund for this or other UMEs and help cover costs incurred by the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Updated: August 2, 2017