Marine Mammal Center rescuers search for injured sea lion in Bodega Bay

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An injured, entangled California sea lion, its chest wrapped in fishing line that has cut deep into its blubber, eluded capture Thursday during an emergency rescue attempt by the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center.

But staff and volunteers hope there is still a chance to locate and disentangle the male pinniped, which has shown up in bays and harbors along about 400 miles of California coastline this summer, making several stops in Bodega Bay.

“This is what these things are. It’s patience and preparation,” said Dave Zahniser, rescue and response manager for the nonprofit marine mammal rehabilitation center. “This is an animal we’ve been tracking for a couple of months now.”

Although apparently not in critically bad shape, based on its range and mobility, the animal is clearly wounded and bleeding, those who have seen it said. It left blood stains behind on the dock at Mason’s Marina, where it rested for a spell on Tuesday, as well as about a month earlier, marina personnel said.

Though the prominent sagittal crest, a ridge of bone along the skull, that appears on male sea lions as they mature suggests the elusive animal has entered adulthood, it is not believed to be fully grown. So as it gets bigger, the embedded line will only tighten and further penetrate soft tissue, potentially putting the animal’s windpipe, major arteries and other structures at risk, said Dr. Sophie Whoriskey, a veterinarian with the marine mammal facility.

At the moment, it appears to be relatively robust and well-fed, she and others said. But every time the line moves, “It’s got to be irritating that wound,” said veteran rescue volunteer Phil Warren, a resident of Bodega Bay.

The sea lion, sometimes called B-Dock since its appearance at Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg late last May, has ranged as far south as Morro Bay, Zahniser said. It’s also been spotted in Monterey Bay and at Pier 39 in San Francisco.

After hauling onto one of the docks at Mason’s Marina on Tuesday, it spent most of Wednesday on a wooden dock near the Doran Beach Coast Guard Station across the harbor, said Warren, who monitored the situation.

Perhaps the sea lion’s longest stay was in Noyo Harbor, where Harbormaster Justin Pyorre recalled watching it daily for at least a week as it rested in the same spot on Dock B, located right in front of his office.

Pyorre, a former crabber, said it appeared to have crab line or perhaps rope around its neck.

In either case, “it looked painful to me,” and he watched it with binoculars, checking regularly, thinking he would find at some point that it had died.

“There were definitely a few times that I thought it was dead,” he said.

When it seemed the creature had become a reliable fixture at the Fort Bragg marina, the marine mammal center launched an attempted rescue that brought a full team together for two days at Noyo Harbor in early June.

But for the first time in days, the sea lion failed to show.

“It was like, how did he know?” Pyorre said of the June 4 operation.

Zahniser said his team was at Noyo Harbor for two days, hoping the animal would show, when they learned it had been spotted at Pier 39 in San Francisco.

So everyone hustled to get to the city “and missed him by an hour,” Zahniser said.

The operations are somewhat complex to pull off, requiring authorization from federal wildlife personnel at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as a multi-faceted team that includes veterinary personnel and operations and safety officers. Also needed are plenty of hands on deck to help dart and sedate a sea lion, which can weigh up to 800 pounds, and net and restrain its movement during disentanglement, most likely in the water. The darting process includes insertion of a small transmitter that allows the rescue team to track the sea mammal once it’s flushed into the water.

Close to a dozen people were mobilized Thursday, including Bodega Bay firefighters who used their boats to ferry scouts around the harbor. The Marine Mammal Center also had its own inflatable boat available, though the rescue never happened.

“We’ll just wait until someone reports it again and try to catch up with him as best we can,” Whoriskey said.

About 10 percent of The Marine Mammal Center’s patients each year have been entangled in marine trash, spokeswoman Laura Sherr said.

The facility admitted 26 live entangled marine mammals last year, including 16 California sea lions. This year, five animals have been admitted, including two sea lions.

Injured or distressed marine mammals can be reported to The Marine Mammal Center at 415-289-SEAL.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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