Rescued sea lion pups fill the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. Scientists don't know why they are starving.



Starving sea lion pups fill rescue centers

LOS ANGELES - Hundreds of starving sea lion pups are washing up on beaches from San Diego to Santa Barbara, overwhelming rescue centers and leaving scientists scrambling to figure out why.

At island rookeries off the Southern California coast, 45 percent of the pups born in June have died, said Sharon Melin, a wildlife biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service based in Seattle. Normally, less than one-third of the pups would die.

Pups are normally weaned from their mothers in April.

Southern California rescue facilities have become so crowded they have had to start sending pups to Northern California, said Jeff Boehm, executive director at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which was caring for 30 starving pups.

Scientists were performing tests to determine if the problem is food availability, disease or both.

Biologists knew last spring that this year's supply of anchovies and sardines could be limited, Boehm said.

3 of 4 reptiles stolen from museum found

FRESNO - Three of four reptiles that were swiped from a science museum and thrown together into a garbage bag during a heist were recovered Friday, though a 3-foot-long ball python remained at large, officials said.

The 3 1/2-foot savannah monitor lizard, a 7-foot-long red-tailed boa constrictor and another 3-foot-long ball python were in good condition, said Mary Ellen Wright, the director of the Fresno Discovery Center.

Authorities were searching for the missing python in an area frequented by a suspect, who has been arrested.

Wright had been worried about the reptiles' confinement together in the bag "because they are mortal enemies." The thief also stole children's toys, the phone system and the security monitor.


Zumba teacher pleads guilty to prostitution

PORTLAND - A dance instructor accused of using her Zumba fitness studio as a front for prostitution pleaded guilty Friday to 20 counts in a scandal that captivated a quiet seaside town.

The agreement that followed a second day of plea negotiations spares Alexis Wright from the prospect of a high-profile trial featuring sex videos, exhibitionism and pornography.

Prosecutors will recommend a jail sentence of 10 months when she's sentenced May 31.

Wright quietly answered "guilty" 20 times when the judge read the counts, which include engaging in prostitution, promotion of prostitution, conspiracy, tax evasion and theft by deception.

The 30-year-old Wright was accused of conspiring with insurance agent Mark Strong Sr. to run a prostitution business in which she kept detailed records indicating she made $150,000 over an 18-month period. She was also accused of using a hidden camera to record sex acts without her clients' knowledge.

New York

Judge tosses suit over 9/11 steel cross

NEW YORK - A judge has tossed out a lawsuit that sought to stop the display of a cross-shaped steel beam found among the World Trade Center's rubble, saying the artifact could help tell the story of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, in a ruling released publicly Friday, rejected the arguments of American Atheists, which sued the National September 11 Memorial & Museum's operators in 2011 on constitutional grounds, contending that the prominent display of the cross constitutes an endorsement of Christianity, diminishing the contributions of non-Christian rescuers.

Batts wrote that the cross and its accompanying panels of text help "demonstrate how those at ground zero coped with the devastation they witnessed during the rescue and recovery effort."

She called its purpose "historical and secular" and noted that it will be housed at the museum in the "Finding Meaning at Ground Zero" section with placards explaining its meaning and the reason for its inclusion. It also will be surrounded by secular artifacts.

The Associated Press