Since January, over 1,450 sea lions have been found stranded on California beaches, crowding rescue centers past capacity and worrying animal experts, The New York Times reports. According to researchers, this is 5 times greater than the historical average.

"There are so many calls, we just can't respond to them all," said Justin Viezbicke, who manages strandings for the state. "The reality is, we just can't get to these animals."

The reasons behind the increase—largely made up of sick and starving pups—is uncertain, but scientists believe rising ocean temperatures may play a role:

Experts suspect that unusually warm waters are driving fish and other food away from the coastal islands where sea lions breed and wean their young. As the mothers spend time away from the islands hunting for food, hundreds of starving pups are swimming away from home and flopping ashore from San Diego to San Francisco.

Many of the pups are leaving the Channel Islands, an eight-island chain off the Southern California coast, in a desperate search for food. But they are too young to travel far, dive deep or truly hunt on their own, scientists said.

A similar surge in lost pups occurred in the spring of 2013, leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare an "unusual mortality event" and release this troubling graph:

At that time, Dr. Shawn Johnson of the Marine Mammal Center told the San Francisco Chronicle, "We're hoping it's not the new norm." However, the situation may be even grimmer this year.

"Things are worse than 2013," Marine Animal Rescue's Peter Wallerstein told NBC Los Angeles. "We're doing everything we can to take in as many patients as we can."

[Image via AP Images/NOAA]