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Faceless seal near Morro Bay was likely another sea lion poisoned by toxic algae

A seal with its skull fully stripped of flesh washed up on the beach north of Morro Bay last week. It’s likely a sea lion that died of domoic acid poisoning.
A seal with its skull fully stripped of flesh washed up on the beach north of Morro Bay last week. It’s likely a sea lion that died of domoic acid poisoning.

A new theory has emerged about the faceless seal decomposing on a beach near Morro Bay.

What was thought to be an elephant seal attacked by a shark is more likely to be a sea lion poisoned by toxic algae in the food chain, according to a veterinary medical epidemiologist who corrected his original theory after he visited the corpse on Sunday.

Seals can become listless and disoriented after eating fish that have eaten toxic algae. The Marine Mammal Center has rescued 70 sea lions since July 1 with this condition.

William Goodger, a docent with Friends of the Elephant Seal, originally thought the faceless creature was an elephant seal and attributed the lack of flesh on its face to a shark attack. But, after further consideration, he questioned the hypothesis and decided to venture to the beach south of Toro Creek for further analysis with direct observation.

“This seal has larger front flippers than an elephant seal. The confirmation (that it is a sea lion) was there were no nails on the front flipper and rear flippers had nails, which is the opposite of elephant seals,” Goodger said.

As for the lack of flesh on the seal’s head?

“Either the birds (after death) or a shark (while still alive) may have done some damage to the face,” Goodger said.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

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