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Sickly sea lion pup found sleeping in booth inside La Jolla restaurant

Employees at the Marine Room in La Jolla had an unexpected guest Thursday morning.

A sickly sea lion pup was found sleeping in one of the restaurant’s booths.

Restaurant employees found the pup, which is about the size of a small dog, on the seat near a window overlooking the ocean about 8 a.m., said manager Matt Caponi. Employees called a SeaWorld rescue team, and the pup was awake and moving around by the time the team arrived.

The 8-month-old female California sea lion was malnourished and dehydrated, SeaWorld officials said. At 20 pounds, she is considered a “micro pup,” meaning she is half the normal weight for her age.

The SeaWorld rescue team took the pup to its rescue center and began giving her fluids. Animal care specialists discovered she also had a left eye swollen shut.

Despite her condition, a SeaWorld spokesman said rescuers were “cautiously optimistic” the animal would recover and be returned to the wild.

Caponi suspected the pup might have come through a back door that an employee left open earlier in the morning.

“Maybe [she] thought we were open for high-tide breakfast, but we weren’t,” he said. "We told [her] to come back for the weekend."

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SeaWorld officials said high tides and El Niño’s warm waters have diminished the sea lions’ food supply. There have been 40 rescues of stranded sea lions so far this year in San Diego. In 2015, 990 were rescued.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reported that between Jan. 1 and March 8 of last year, 1,605 sea lions washed up on California beaches.

The Cave Store in La Jolla posted a video on Facebook on Jan. 21 that showed a sea lion inside the store. The pup had climbed up 145 steps and wandered inside the store before it was lured back to the ocean by an employee.

Hernandez writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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