The customer in the sleek brown coat was feeling quite parched as he wandered off the beach and into a Balboa Peninsula bar last week.
Thirsty patrons coming off the sand aren’t unusual at Beach Ball, which sits along a stretch of watering holes near the Newport Pier.
But this visitor was unlike any other. After all, a sea lion pup isn’t tall enough to reach a seat at the bar and probably doesn’t have an affinity for stiff cocktails.
He also lacks the proper identification to be served, said bartender Todd Garbella.
“We card everyone — even sea lions,” he said with a chuckle.
The pup wandered off the beach, through the parking lot and up the steps leading into Beach Ball just before 11 a.m. May 12, bar patrons said.
Sea lion sightings have become more common recently along Orange County beaches. More than 2,000 of the animals, most of them dehydrated and malnourished, have washed ashore this year in California, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Experts say rising ocean temperatures are to blame for the uptick in beached sea lions. The warm water forces the animals’ prey deeper into the ocean or farther offshore. This means that when sea lion mothers swim to find food, they have to stay away longer before they can return to nurse their pups.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, which rescues distressed sea lions and returns them to the ocean after they have been nurtured back to health, has housed 122 of the animals since January, according to its website.
Though it’s uncommon for sea lions to wander into businesses, when they do show up, it can be in some strange places, said Mary Beth Steen, director of development for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.
So what happens when a sea lion pup walks into a bar?
Beach Ball patrons blocked his way with chairs while they waited for employees of the mammal center to pick him up.
“They didn’t want him to wander in and bite anyone,” Garbella said.
Before he was rescued, customers named the pup Beach Ball in homage to the bar.
He is being treated at the mammal center for an eye infection.
“He’ll have to put on some weight before he can be released back into the wild,” Steen said.
Fry writes for Times Community News.