Sea lion rescued off busy California highway miles from harbor

Josefine Jandinger

(SAN DIEGO, Calif.) — A sea lion managed to make its way onto a busy California highway Friday, before animal rescuers, first responders and a couple of good Samaritans were able to help get the stranded marine mammal to safety.

Drivers came across the unusual sight Friday morning, which halted traffic on a freeway east of downtown San Diego several miles from the bay, where the animals are commonly found.

Josefine Jandinger told ABC San Diego affiliate KGTV she was driving east on State Route 94, just west of Interstate 805, when she saw two “amazing humans” stop their car, get out and direct traffic around the animal as it crossed the freeway.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Jandinger, who captured a video of the man and woman aiding the sea lion. “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

California Highway Patrol reported that the animal crossed four lanes on the 94 East highway before stopping in the median. Officers ran several traffic breaks to prevent the sea lion from getting hit by any cars before animal rescuers could arrive.

CHP Media Information Officer Jim Bettencourt tweeted from the scene at about 10 a.m. local time.

“This little guy somehow made it to the 94 and 15 this morning,” he said. “Our officers are there standing by waiting for @SeaWorld to come to the rescue.”

Bettencourt later updated that SeaWorld San Diego, which had been contacted by CHP and several members of the community about the stranded sea lion, was able to rescue it.

“Great work from the SeaWorld San Diego rescue team, who responded to several calls to help relocate this curious sea lion who made his way onto busy streets this morning,” the park said on Twitter, while sharing footage of the sea lion caught on the side of the freeway in a safety net. “We’re grateful for the CA Highway Patrol for helping our team safely rescue him.”

Marine life experts are unsure exactly how the sea lion, a juvenile male weighing around 200 pounds, wound up on the highway.

“Why he crossed the road, I don’t know,” Eric Otjen, head of SeaWorld San Diego’s rescue team, told ABC News. “We’ll probably never know why.”

As to how, there’s a typically dry creek bed near the highway, which, after recent rain, may have been one path, he surmised.

Sea lions are curious, fearless animals who are good climbers and walkers, Otjen said. “Curiosity sometimes gets the best of them,” he said.

This isn’t the first time this particular sea lion has been rescued by the SeaWorld team, Otjen said. In early November, they rescued the animal on a road near the San Diego airport. After being released, the sea lion showed up again at other “odd” spots, including near a deli in Mission Bay and on the Navy Base in Point Loma, Otjen said. Most sea lion rescues the team does are along the beach, marina docks and cliffs.

“A sea lion on the freeway is really, really rare,” Otjen said. “It’s one for the record books.”

The rescue team tagged the sea lion after the first rescue, so they’ve been able to keep tabs on it since. It also has a distinctive wound across the bridge of his nose, Otjen said.

SeaWorld San Diego transported the sea lion to its park, where it will assess the animal and provide it any necessary rehabilitation, the park said.

“We really want to make sure that we do our due diligence before we return him,” Otjen said. “It could be up to and including MRIs and CT scans and the whole nine just to see what’s going on with him.”

Otjen said he is thankful for everyone who helped rescue the animal and that nobody was harmed, though he warned against approaching marine mammals.

“See lions can bite, and they can be pretty dangerous,” he said. “So just be careful and call us as soon as they see an injured or ill or, whatever, freeway sea lion.”

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