Published: Tuesday 30 June 1998

  Sea lions: in the fight for< Marine mammals and seabirds on the coast of Peru, including endangered penguin species, have been deva-stated in the now-fading El Nio. Now scientists are trying to assess the impact of a year-long food shortage caused by record-high water temperatures. Patricia Majluf, a wildlife conserva-tion society zoo-logist at the Punta San Juan reserve 480-km south of Lima, Peru, said depleted wildlife "may not survive events of this magnitude."

Peruvian marine wildlife is adapted to living in an unpredictable environment fluctuating between El Nio. Majluf said that pup production by South American fur seals and lions had been wiped out.

During the period, seve-ral animals and a part of the breeding adult populations also apparently died, she said. The beaches on and around Punta San Juan were littered at first with dead sea lions pups that had been born prematurely, and then, with carcasses of a lot of adult females.

According to her, only 15 fur seals have been counted at a site so far, where several hundred used to be found. This year, only 1,500 sea lions out of former population of 8,000 had returned to the area. This situation at Punta San Juan was reflected along the Peru coast, where a survey in March by the Peruvian Marine Institute showed only 2,800 fur seals and 28,000 sea lions, compared to 40,000 and 1,50,000 respectively in early 1997. While sea temperatures have dropped to slightly above normal, only 50 Humboldt penguins have shown up to lay eggs that usually number 3,500 to 5,000, Majluf said.

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