Sea lion shows 'curiosity' about life inland

It only took two days for a 700-pound sea lion to find his way back up the Back Bay and into San Diego Creek in Irvine.

On Saturday afternoon, police and a rescue team from the Laguna Beach-based Pacific Marine Mammal Center captured the adult sea lion in the creek near Main Street and released him into Newport Harbor later that day, said Lt. Julia Engen, a public information officer for the Irvine Police Department.

Two days later, the sea lion was back, swimming up Newport's waterway.

About 9 a.m. Monday, Irvine police received a call that another sea lion was in the same part of the freshwater creek, said Hope Darrow, an animal services officer for the Irvine Police Department.

But animal service officers could tell from his size and several markings on his torso that it was the same sea lion, said Melissa Sciacca, director of development at PMMC.

"This one is just a little misguided," she said. "He's perfectly healthy otherwise. He's just, you know, a wayward sea lion, basically."

Before the PMMC rescue team could arrive, the sea lion swam about 1.5 miles upstream to Warner Avenue, where he was eventually captured, Engen said.

Scott Sedlick and others from the rescue team thought of a name for the returned marine mammal as they headed to the flood control center part of San Diego Creek, where he was swimming his long distances.

"We were thinking of Olympic swimmers, and Missy Franklin came to mind," Sedlick said. "We used her last name for a nice guy's name."

Because the rescue team was already familiar with Franklin's size and temperament, it made his capture a lot easier, said Sedlick, who also helped with Saturday's capture.

"You never really know with an animal exactly how things are going to go until you get there, and you're staring at him face to face, and he's gigantic," Sedlick said.

On Saturday, Franklin was released off a dock in Newport Harbor near the Harbor Patrol headquarters, said Michele Hunter, PMMC director of animal care.

Sgt. John Hollenbeck, of the Orange County Sheriff's Department Marine Operations, said captured sea lions are usually released off a Harbor Patrol boat or the beach, but Franklin's size and the weekend beach crowds didn't allow either option.

The dock was the best bet, he added.

"I actually think it's pretty hilarious," Hollenbeck said of the sea lion's return. "He obviously has some curiosity about what it's like inland."

"Either that or he heard that Irvine is a nice place to live and just wants to relocate," he added, laughing.

For Franklin's re-release Monday, the rescue team transported him farther south, to San Onofre State Beach, letting him out of his metal cage and into the ocean at a part of the beach without crowds, Sciacca said.

Franklin immediately swam out to sea, Sedlick said.

"We are hoping to never see him again," he said. "I think he's going to be out there and be fine. He's a big, smart boy, so he'll figure it out, I'm sure."

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