It has been a tough year for California sea lion pups, which have struggled to find food and have been delivered to care facilities by the hundreds.
But only one that we know of has ended up in the back of a police car, having been picked up recently for its own safety after being discovered a quarter-mile from shore on Highway 1 near Forth Bragg, in Northern California.
“Due to the darkness and the dense fog the animal was very difficult to see and would have certainly been struck by a vehicle if the deputies had not stopped,” reads an incident report from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department.
The sea lion was just a baby, measuring 30-plus inches and weighing about 20 pounds, according to the report.
But it was no stranger to humans, the officers realized, when it began to snuggle against their legs like a kitten craving affection.
It turned out that the sea lion, which wears an orange tag on its front flipper, had recently received care at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, near San Francisco. It had been fattened up and set free, but apparently decided to take its chances by wandering inland.
(The sea lions’ plight this year has been well chronicled. Unusually warm water has displaced bait fish populations, leaving younger animals that can’t travel long distances at risk of starvation. More than 1,500 malnourished pups have come ashore, and many have died.)
The officers contacted the Marine Mammal Center, which assessed that the pup was healthy and belongs in the ocean. (Care centers statewide have been filled beyond capacity with starving pups, and cannot accept healthy animals.)
So the deputies complied, as the report concluded:
“The sea lion pup was grateful to receive a ride from Sheriff’s Deputies and climbed into the rear of the patrol vehicle. The sea lion pup was transported by the Sheriff’s deputies and successfully released back into its natural habitat.”
Whether the tiny pinniped will remain in its natural habitat remains to be seen.
–Note: This story also appears on GrindTv
–Images are courtesy of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department