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'Castaway' sea lion rescued near I-5 in San Joaquin County

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The Animal Services Division of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office got an unusual call early Sunday: a sea lion sighting off a stretch where Interstates 5 and 205 join southwest of Dell’Osso Family Farm in Lathrop.

To get the animal to safety, the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center was called to the scene. “After safely capturing the male adolescent sea lion, he was placed in a crate used for transport,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post. “After his rescue, he was safely transported by the Marine Mammal Center for evaluation.”

The center was called by the Sheriff’s Office about 7:30 a.m. and had a trained response team on scene by 10, spokesman Giancarlo Rulli said by phone Sunday afternoon. He said the animal was in good body condition despite having traveled an estimated 2 to 3 miles from the nearest waterway.

The sea lion was in dry patch of land with sparse trees, near the Robert L. Monagan Freeway and South Manthey Road, Rulli said.

It was dubbed Gilligan, the Sheriff’s Office reported, presumably after the TV sitcom sailor whose three-hour tour led to being stranded for 15 years with his fellow castaways on “Gilligan’s Island.” Though it’s unclear how long this Gilligan was lost, its rescue clearly was much quicker than that.

The Sheriff’s Office post referred to the sea lion as male, but Rulli said the animal’s sex has yet to be determined. That likely will happen Monday when it’s given a full examination by veterinarians. The exam will include bloodwork to determine if Gilligan has any diseases.

In the meantime, the sea lion is being fed sustainable caught fish, Rulli said. If it’s given a clean bill of health, Gilligan will be released back into the wild. If not, it will be kept for rehabilitation.

Gilligan is sub-adult, 4 to 5 years old, Rulli said. “Right now, year over year in the May-June period, we see a lot of transient male sub-adult to adult sea lions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta system seeking easily available food like carp ... ,” he said.

The mammals are building up fat reserves because in June or even late May, a lot of them will leave from the mouth of San Francisco Bay to journey 400-plus miles to the Channel Islands of California for mid-June mating.

What’s unusual about Gilligan’s situation is not that the animal was in the Delta, then, but how far upstream it swam in tributaries to get where it was, Rulli said. “It’s a little early to know if it was following a potential food source,” he said, but the sea lion’s ample fat storage shows it hadn’t been too long since its last meal.

“Our Animal Services Officer, (Brian) Wadler, stated that it was quite incredible to be part of this rescue,” the Sheriff’s Office said in its Facebook post. It said the California Highway Patrol also was part of the team effort.

Rulli said the Marine Mammal Center is thankful the deputies and CHP officers prevented Gilligan from getting onto a roadway. He added that if people come across a sea lion that’s out of place, they should keep a safe distance and call his center at 415-289-7325.

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©2020 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

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