Morro Bay police picked up an unusual runaway wandering the streets on Wednesday night: a young sea lion.
“Officers located and detained a cold and hungry runaway juvenile,” said the Morro Bay Police Department in a Facebook post. The sea lion was found in the 400 block of Embarcadero.
The animal was turned over to The Marine Mammal Center. As of Thursday, the sea lion, which has been named Gunther, was at the organization’s Morro Bay clinic.
In the next few days, the sea lion will be taken to the Marine Mammal Center’s hospital in Sausalito, where veterinarians will examine it and determine what’s wrong, according to Laura Sherr, a spokeswoman for The Marine Mammal Center.
Sherr said the center won’t know the animal’s age or sex until after it’s examined.
It’s currently unclear why the sea lion stranded in Morro Bay, but it does appear to be malnourished, Sherr said.
“It’s possible there are other issues as well,” she said.
Sherr said the organization is seeing an increase in malnourished sea lions that started “in the past month or so.” As of Thursday, the center has about 160 marine mammals in its care in Sausalito, and about half of those are sea lions, she said.
“This is about the time of year where we would start to see younger California sea lions coming in, but not in such high numbers so early,” Sherr said.
According to Cara Field, The Marine Mammal Center’s staff veterinarian, most of the 80 sea lions at the organization’s hospital are about a year old.
Sea lions stay with their mother until they’re about 9 or 10 months old and then they’re weaned, so “it’s not uncommon to get some sea lions that are thin and haven’t learned to fish yet,” Field said.
But this year, The Marine Mammal Center is seeing more sea lions that are not only thin, but have other diseases. The most common issues are pneumonia and bacterial infections under the skin or bones, known as abscesses.
“It’s not uncommon to see other diseases because when they’re really thin, their immune system is taxed and they’re more vulnerable,” Field said. “But it is unusual for us to see so many with abscesses. We don’t know why we’re seeing that.”
She noted that the issue has been reported throughout the state.
Field said they’re concerned by the bacterial infections, which can enter the sea lions’ bloodstreams and cause their systems to become septic.
“They are dying from these high bacterial levels,” Field said. “It’s really hard to see all these little guys suffering.”
Field urged anyone who sees a sea lion behaving abnormally to keep their distance from the animal and call The Marine Mammal Center at 415-289-7325.