A wayward sea lion wandered into the road Monday morning in Sonoma County, California, stalling traffic as drivers gawked and crews from the Marine Mammal Center worked to move the animal from harm's way.
The sea lion's expedition blocked the eastbound route of Highway 37 at the junction of California State Route 121, by the railroad tracks. Traffic was at a standstill at 10 a.m., according the California Highway Patrol.
The area — near Skaggs Island and the San Pablo Bay, in the middle of Novato and Vallejo — is the same spot where a 900-pound elephant seal was stranded in December 2015. The seal had to be tranquilized and corralled after it tried to cross Highway 37.
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According to the police log, an off-duty officer chased the sea lion before experts from the Marine Mammal Center arrived. The agency tweeted a picture of the sea lion before it emerged from the water.
Center spokesman Giancarlo Rulli said his agency's rescue crews actually know this sea lion, and had previously nicknamed it "School Daze," a young male who had been at the center several times and treated for malnutrition. Doctors also had determined that this sea lion suffers from neurological damage, possibly because of past domoic acid exposure, the same toxin that caused the most recent Dungeness crab fishing season in California to be delayed.
School Daze is one of more than 80 young California sea lions currently at the Sausalito, Calif. center —more than four times the average normally this time of year, making this the fourth year in a row that California sea lions have been in crisis.
“After four years of sea lions in crisis, the initial shock of seeing so many starving sea lions is over and now we’re really starting to worry about long-term impacts on the population as a whole,” Dr. Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the center said in a statement.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that from January to May 2015, California sea lion strandings were more than 10 times the average.
Nearly 600 sea lions pups and yearlings were stranded in California in March, according to NOAA, though that was nearly half the number reported stranded in March 2015. NOAA scientists say it’s likely that a change in the availability of the animals’ prey, like sardines, is affecting nursing mothers.