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Story by Kimberly West - The Oregon Herald
Published on Thursday December 2, 2010 - 9:22 AM
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FLORENCE, Oregon. – The thousands of sea lions that arrived last winter near Florence seem to have largely moved on.Dead sea lions were found near the world famous "Sea Lion Caves" still featured the usual group of 1,000 or so sea lions sitting on rocks as great waves of the Pacific Ocean created a storm of applause. The location is just an hour's drive west of Eugene.

According to marine biologists -- at the nearby Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport -- the deceased sea lions and various other marine life, to include thousands of dead starfish, "have tested positive" for leptospirosis.

The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Oregon State University's College of Veterinary Medicine have examined "dozens of dead animals" and they showed clear signs of leptospirosis, that's viewed as a deadly and communicable disease.

The spread of this disease found in the dead sea lions and other marine life puts human health in danger, say officials.

OSU researchers said "leptospirosis can be virulent," and noted that there have been more than 100 cases of this rare, and highly transmittable disease, reported to the Centers of Disease Control thus far in 2010. Human who come in contact with these diseased animals can become "infected."

Knowing a good tourist draw when they saw it, the folks who operate Pier 39 provided new housing, a cluster of 10-foot-by-12-foot floats within camera clicking distance from shore. Sea lions squeezed aboard, barking their approval.

The Marine Mammal Center got so many questions it opened a kiosk nearby. And for years, tourists stopped for a look and an earful.

Overall, the news is very bad for the world when it comes to the current state of the oceans and its sea life. Scientists see a notable shift in the composition of coastal marine animal communities, caused in part by changing ocean temperatures and human population growth and the resulting pollution of the oceans.