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Emaciated Sea Lion Pup Found in Almond Orchard 100 Miles from Sea

Apr 16, 2014 09:52 AM EDT
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A wayward sea lion pup is recovering in California after it was found hopping through an almond orchard very far from the sea.

When farm workers first spotted the pup, it was about a mile away from the nearest river, which it presumably used to traveled more than 100 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.

According to the The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., which coordinated the pup's rescue and is rehabilitating the animal, the farm worker who found the sea lion gave it a fitting name: Hoppie.

The Merced Sun Star, a local newspaper based near where Hoppie was found, reported that workers at Mape's Ranch, about 8 miles west of Modesto, discovered the sea lion pup on March 31.

Hoppie was found near the boundary of the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, which is in the San Joaqiun Valley.

It's unclear why Hoppie left the river and traveled on the ground for such a long distance, but had ranch workers not have found him, the sea lion would have likely died.

"He probably would have starved to death, Eric Hopson, the assistant wildlife manager at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, told the Merced Sun Star.

"He was already emaciated and lacking in body weight," Hopson said. "Unless he could find his way back to the river and back to salt water, he would have eventually died a slow death."

Farm workers contacted Hopson when they found the sea lion, and Hopson contacted the National Marine Fisheries Service in Southern California, which then contacted The Marine Mammal Center to facilitate the rescue.

In California's Central Valley, it's common to find farms producing cotton, grapes, citrus, nuts and vegetables, but it's quite uncommon to find a sea lion. However, Hoppie is not the first sea lion to show up so far from home.

In 2004 another sea lion, this one a 315-pound adult, was found sitting atop a police cruiser near the same area where Hoppie was rescued. The adult sea lion, named Chippy, had been shot and a bullet was lodged into the soft tissue behind his skull.

The Marine Mammal Center rehabilitated Chippy and released him back into the wild after about a month of care.

The Center says it hopes to release Hoppie back into the wild as well, but the pup must first gain a healthy amount of weight. Hoppie only weighs about 35 pounds now; he needs to be about double that weight. 

"He's feeding well. He hasn't yet gained weight, but that is totally normal and he will continue to gain weight as he continues to get accustomed to his new surroundings," Marine Mammal Center spokeswoman Laura Sherr told KCBS in Sausalito.

Hoppie is a sea lion pup who swam up the San Joaquin River and found his way 100 miles inland. Photo via Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito.
 

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