In June 2011, personnel from the Marine Research Department at the Galapagos National Park’s offices on the Island of San Cristobal discovered 19 dead Galapagos sea lion cubs (Zalophus wollebaeki). In response, the Park increased its monitoring of sea lion colonies at a number of beaches on San Cristobal, including La Lobería and Playa Mann, where mortality rates were estimated as high as 66%.
An action plan was put in place prior to the peak breeding months of September and November. Monitoring was extended from San Cristobal to breeding areas on Española, Santa Fe and Caamaño Islands and necropsies were conducted on the dead pups. Blood and tissue samples were sent to labs in Quito, the United States and Canada to look for the presence of such pathogens as leptospirosis, brucellosis, parvovirus, calicivirus, influenza and distemper. The results of all of these studies were negative.
Over the past year, the GNPS has worked to implement preventative measures to minimize the risks of illness among sea lions, focusing on assuring water quality, reducing introduced animals (dogs, cats, rats), and strengthening quarantine measures to avoid the transfer of pathogens between islands.
The Park is currently developing a management plan to protect Galapagos sea lions, which will involve ongoing monitoring of populations and preventative conservation measures to protect colonies that interact with areas populated by humans. These measures will be carried out in conjunction with municipalities and organizations involved in the management and administration of populated areas.
The Galapagos Sea Lion is an endemic species considered in danger of extinction by the IUCN. Located on the top of the food chain, it has a high ecological value, and as one of the most charismatic species in Galapagos, it has a high value for eco-tourism, as well. The Galapagos sea lion is considered one of the top attractions on the Island of San Cristobal.