Baby sea lion rescued on freeway

June 23, 2009 5:49:00 AM PDT
A baby sea lion wandered onto a busy San Francisco Bay area freeway Monday morning but, after a ride in the back seat of a police car, was safe and resting at a marine center later in the day.

Drivers on Interstate 880 started calling authorities around 5:45 a.m. to report the animal "walking" in the center divider near the Oakland Coliseum, said Peter Van Eckhardt, an officer with the California Highway Patrol.

He said the sea lion likely reached land from a nearby San Francisco Bay estuary and crossed the roadway in the middle of the night.

The animals do wander onto Bay area roadways from time to time, Van Eckhardt said. A male sea lion was found waddling on a busy street in Richmond in May, but died from malnutrition.

"It definitely happens on occasion," Van Eckhardt said. "This is pretty off the beaten path for them to come in this far."

An Oakland police officer driving near the coliseum Monday morning loaded the small, grey-coated sea lion into the back of his patrol car and took it to an animal control center, Van Eckhardt said.

Several officers later tried to get the animal, nicknamed "Fruitvale" for the Oakland neighborhood where it was found, into a cage, but it jumped underneath the patrol car. The pup eventually was rounded up and taken to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, a nonprofit facility that helps sick and injured marine animals. Jim Oswald, a spokesman for the center, said the animal is active and alert but slightly malnourished.

"I'm sure it was pretty traumatic to go through what (it) did today," Oswald said. "(It) seems to be doing fine."

Veterinarians wanted to give the animal a chance to rest, but they plan to undertake a more thorough medical evaluation Tuesday, Oswald said.

The center has seen a spike this year in the number of weakened and malnourished sea lions found along the Northern California coast. In a recent week, staff at the center rescued 10 more sea lions a day than usual.

Experts say the increase could be caused by a drop in the number of smaller fish that younger sea lions rely on for food while they are developing.

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