July 9, 2008

Wayward Sea Lion Settles in at Hospital

By Shelby Martin, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

Jul. 9--The errant sea lion rescued from a Santa Clara aqueduct Monday is now safe and sound at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.

The sea lion, dubbed "San Tomas" after the expressway near where she was found, spent more than 10 days in a shallow concrete-lined channel near a group of industrial parks on Scott Boulevard.

When San Tomas arrived at her new pen, she first exchanged glances with a sea lion in a neighboring tank, and then -- "she walked in; she put her nose up and looked around," said Marine Mammal Center spokesman Jim Oswald.

Marine Mammal Center veterinarians formally admitted their sea lion patient on Tuesday afternoon. San Tomas weighed in at 147 pounds. She enthusiastically ate herring.

Veterinarians also attached a flipper tag with an identifying number.

"If something happens, or if the animal re-strands, we'll know her medical history," Oswald explained.

On Thursday, veterinarians plan to take an EEG of San Tomas' brain.

Although the animal's condition has yet to be fully assessed, other stranded sea lions have shown symptoms of poisoning by domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by certain marine algae.

Lisa Borok of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute explained that during hazardous algae blooms, the toxin builds up in fish and fish-eating animals.

The same toxin is responsible for amnesiac shellfish poisoning in humans. In 1987, three people died and more than 100 were sickened after

eating shellfish from Prince Edward Island in Canada.

In high enough doses, domoic acid can cause seizures and death, and long-term exposure erodes the brain's hippocampus, leading to confusion and disorientation.

"The effects can linger," Oswald said. "We might have a sea lion that is eating fine, gaining weight, and acting like a normal sea lion" -- only to end up stranded again after release.

Contact Shelby Martin at [email protected] com or (408) 920-5427.


To see more of the San Jose Mercury News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.mercurynews.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.