The Cambrian

‘Was he going to die?’ Firefighter leads rescue of malnourished sea lion in Cambria

A severely malnourished California sea lion is on its way to a marine hospital in Sausalito thanks to wildlife rescuers and a Kern County firefighter who was taking a sunrise walk along the Hearst San Simeon State Park shoreline north of Cambria.

Ken James, 54, a Cambria resident, said he and the sea lion spotted each other about the same time about dawn Monday, Feb. 4.

“I wanted to experience the sunrise at the beach,” James said in a phone interview Monday night.

When his stroll took him to the south side of the San Simeon Creek bridge across Highway 1, he saw “this poor lonely sea lion, and I thought it was lost.”

He said the seal reared up as he drew closer, its head silhouetted against the sky.

“He or she saw me,” James said, “and it was a special kind of moment. It looked at me, in my eyes. I’ve never had anything like that happen before.”

The situation looked dire.

“The back half of the sea lion was almost flat,” he said. “Was he gong to die in front of my eyes?”

James “said a little prayer” and went home, but the situation haunted him. He began searching for trained rescuers who could help the creature professionally.

He found The Marine Mammal Center, and about 12:30 p.m., he connected with trained volunteers who rescued the approximately 70-pound mammal and took it to the Morro Bay triage center for an initial evaluation.

Giancarlo Rulli, spokesperson for the Center, said the expert rescuers had determined the sea lion they later nicknamed Ike “was severely malnourished and … needed to be rescued.”

Rulli said early Monday afternoon that Ike was “in transport up to the Center’s Sausalito hospital for further rehabilitation,” where the animal will have a full admission exam later this week.

“The Center’s veterinary team will determine age class, sex, and determine any additional ailments the animal may be suffering from,” he said. “Trained volunteers will administer bagged fluids daily to Ike for the next few days to assist in rehydration.”

James and wife Tina want to do more than keep tabs on Ike’s progress, he said. They hope to be there when the recovered sea lion is released back into the sea, and they plan to become volunteer rescuers for The Marine Mammal Center.

Learn more about The Marine Mammal Center’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts and tips about viewing marine wildlife at

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