Wayward Sea Lion Rescued From Santa Clara Creek
By Shelby Martin, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.
Jul. 8–A wayward sea lion trapped in a Santa Clara creek was rescued Monday, thanks to a dozen volunteers, some strong fishing nets and a jumbo-size dog kennel.
The capture ended the sea lion’s 10-day adventure in Silicon Valley, which drew dozens of curious onlookers and featured two previous unsuccessful attempts to corral her.
The sea lion was first sighted June 27 in the shallow water of a concrete-lined channel along the San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail, near the San Tomas Expressway.
Monday, a half-dozen police officers herded onlookers to one side as volunteers from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito wrangled the 150-pound female sea lion from the channel into the kennel, and then onto the bed of a pickup.
Jim Oswald, spokesman for the Marine Mammal Center, said the animal will be evaluated by veterinarians at the center’s headquarters before being released into the ocean. He said the Center has named the sea lion “San Tomas,” after the creek where she was found. He estimated she had traveled about three miles before getting trapped.
In 2004, a 300-pound sea lion named “Chippy” traveled 135 miles up the San Joaquin river into Merced County. He was also rescued and released back into the ocean.
“Who knows why these animals do this?” Oswald said. “We don’t know if they’re chasing food sources or if they get lost and disoriented.”
Oswald speculated that fatigue on the part of the sea lion may have contributed to the success
of her capture today. The animal appeared healthy, despite her 10-day ordeal.
“She swam around like a bullet this morning,” said Linn Johnson, a Marine Mammal Center volunteer who assisted in the rescue.
Johnson waded waist-deep into the water to help herd the sea lion toward the nets.
“I got wet to my underwear,” he said. “The water smells like a sewer.”
After 10 minutes of dodging and diving, the animal was finally netted. Lincoln Shaw, the volunteer who finally netted the sea lion, said dragging a heavy net after the fast swimmer was a challenge.
“She can turn on a dime,” he said. “She can grab her back flippers and turn somersaults.”
Once netted, the sea lion began thrashing and barking. After being muscled into the carrier, she was quieter, only occasionally butting her nose against the metal gate.
Passersby continually stopped to view the stranded sea lion. The crowd of more than 50 included Doreen Lundberg, a flight attendant who grew up in Santa Clara. She said she heard about the sea lion during a phone call from her parents Monday morning.
“They said, ‘The creek where you used to catch polliwogs has a sea lion in it!’ I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ “
Employees from the surrounding industrial parks also gathered. Lee Vigent took a break from work Monday morning to watch the sea lion. She was resting in a wide drainage pipe, he said. “I could hear her sneezing.”
Vigent’s family joined him on the scene later that day. Twelve-year-old Natalie Vigent speculated that the sea lion must be eating fish.
“I saw one jump,” she said.
Seven-year-old Cameron Whitaker had another idea about feeding the sea lion. “I say they should ship out some rainbow trout,” he said. “Those are really good.”
Jennifer Whitaker, who lives just up the road from where the sea lion was found, often walks along the creek with her sons Cameron and Glenn. She described learning about the stranded sea lion Monday morning.
“I said, ‘That’s our creek, we gotta go out there!’ ” She added that her sons always see lots of animals in the water.
“Like crayfish,” said 5-year-old Glenn.
“And snowy egrets,” Cameron added. “And ducks. And ducklings.”
But he said that this is the first sea lion they’ve seen in the creek.
“It’s a very amazing sight,” he concluded.
Contact Shelby Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5427.
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