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Wayward sea lion pup, 'Hoppie,' found in Central Valley orchard

A lost sea lion pup nicknamed Hoppie found at a Central Valley orchard about 100 miles from the ocean is recovering at a marine mammal center in Sausalito after its inland adventure.

The confused animal was discovered last month at Mape's Ranch near Modesto, where workers contacted wildlife officials, the Fresno Bee reported.

A volunteer at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito eventually coaxed the lost sea lion into a wire cage, where it promptly fell asleep, KTVU-TV reported. The 36-pound sea lion is undergoing treatment for open sores, center officials said.

Before he can be returned to the wild, Hoppie needs to gain weight, said the marine experts, who are giving him five pounds of fish a day and around-the-clock care. 

The lost sea lion had hopped close to a mile from the San Joaquin River before he was discovered at Mape's Ranch, about eight miles west of Modesto -- near the boundary of the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.

"The ranch hands were working in the almond orchard and that's when they spotted it," said Eric Hopson, the assistant wildlife refuge manager. "When I found it, it was actively moving along the edge of a farm field road near the almond orchard.

"The animal had already walked at least half a mile from the river and was obviously confused."

The ranch hands watched in amazement as a disoriented Hoppie stopped in the almond orchard on Mape's Ranch to rest.

"I thought, 'That's the biggest sea otter I've ever seen,'" said Billy Lyons, the ranch owner's son. "I just couldn't believe it to be honest with you. We just stood there and kept an eye to make sure it wouldn't hurt itself by jumping into one of the underground pipelines."

Mape's Ranch, the massive farming operation west of Modesto on Highway 132, is owned by former state Secretary of Food and Agriculture Bill Lyons Jr.

The sea lion pup is believed to be less than a year old and could have been recently separated from its mother.

"Hoppie is a very lucky sea lion in so many ways," Hopson told the Bee. "I was just part of the process. It was great teamwork all around and a lot of lucky circumstances."

The Marine Mammal Center is currently caring for a record number of animals -- now at 194 – since opening in 2009.  It was built to accommodate 200.

With the facility near capacity, a spokeswoman said they had launched a fundraising campaign to help defray the costs of now using roughly 1,000 pounds of fish a day to feed the rescues.

Hoppie is the second sea lion to be found in the region. In February 2004, a 321-pound sea lion named Chippy was found lounging on a police cruiser and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers.

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