A large bull California sea lion, twice rescued from Newport Beach’s shores covered in fishing hooks, set sail aboard a Coast Guard cutter Monday morning bound for a new home on San Clemente Island.
The sea lion was dubbed “Captain Hook" by Pacific Marine Mammal Center workers in Laguna Beach who rescued him with more than 70 fishing hooks, lines and lures caught in his mouth and around his face.
He washed up on the beach near 23rd Street on the Balboa Peninsula Oct. 28.
“I’ve never seen an animal with so many hooks," said Michele Hunter, the mammal center’s director of operations and animal care. “It was just a mass coming out of his mouth."
Captain Hook was originally found extremely underweight, well below the normal 700 to 800 pounds. As Hunter put it, Hook was being a lazy eater and trying to eat fish snared in lines or nets. The hooks accumulated in his mouth and around his face made it difficult to eat. He also had hooks near his eyes, flippers and ears.
The Marine Mammal Center, which rescues aquatic mammals from all around Orange County, removed the hooks and put Captain Hook on a diet to help him regain the weight. Captain Hook was released back into the ocean Nov. 14 in San Clemente.
It was less than a week before the rescue crews were again called out to pick him up. Hook reappeared again Nov. 19 near the RV park at the Newport Dunes. He was again found with a large hook and lure in his mouth, weighing 568 pounds.
The captain was less than cooperative as a mammal center crew struggled to lure him into a cage to take him in for treatment. After using fish as bait, the crew was able to cajole Hook out of the water and into the cage.
“With his size, he’s a little intimidating. He caused quite a stir down there," Hunter said.
Captain Hook again found himself in the safe pools of the center, where he was again treated for his hook injuries and fattened up with a diet of 48 pounds of fish a day.
Captain Hook was released at San Clemente Island Monday weighing in at a whopping 1,100 pounds.
The mammal center released him on the island hoping more natural surroundings will help him avoid hooks.
“We want to get him out where there’s an abundance of fish and other sea lions," Hunter said.
San Clemente Island is the southern-most island in the Channel Island chain, which includes Catalina. The 21-mile-long island is owned by the United States Navy, which keeps much of the island natural. Hunter said the unavailability of easy pickings from fishermen’s lines will encourage him to hunt.
Washed up animals should never be touched or approached for the safety of both the onlooker and the sea lion, Hunter said. The proper way to deal with a beached marine mammal is to leave it be and call the center at (949) 494-3050, Hunter said. For more information, visit www.pacificmmc.org.