Sea lion nursed back to health

After spending a weekend recovering in Laguna Beach, a sea lion found with fishing line around his neck has returned to familiar territory at the entrance of Newport Harbor.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center at midday Monday released the sea lion, who has been named Officer Jon in memory of Laguna Beach motorcycle Police Officer Jon Coutchie. Last month, Coutchie died in a vehicle crash while on duty.

The sea lion on Monday swam around the buoy where he was rescued, according to a video of his release.

The pinniped had developed an infection from the fishing line, which had wrapped tightly around its neck.

Officials rescued Officer Jon on Friday about a quarter mile from Newport Harbor's entrance. He recovered quickly over the weekend.

"He was doing quite well," said Melissa Sciacca, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit PMMC, where Officer Jon received treatment. "The animal was showing lots of energy and behavior that he was ready to return home."

The Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol had received reports of the animal's poor condition during recent weeks, said Sgt. John Hollenbeck.

Sea lions often gather on top of the Newport Beach buoy's flat base and soak in the sunlight. Boaters passing into and out of the harbor noted that one of the animals on the buoy appeared to be entangled in fishing wire.

In pictures Hollenbeck took, dark indentations could be seen in Officer Jon's matted, brown fur where the material had pulled into his skin.

Harbor Patrol officers took PMMC rescuers on their boats in an attempt to save him two weeks ago, Hollenbeck said. The animal swam away before they could catch him.

Officials, including Hollenbeck, remained concerned the infection could soon threaten the animal's life. Injuries around the neck can negatively influence the way sea lions eat and hunt, Sciacca said.

So they tried again.

On Friday morning, members of the two groups approached the buoy in the signature red and white OCSD fireboat. They passed closely by in the vessel several times so the creatures would get used to it without feeling threatened, said Hollenbeck, who assisted in the rescue.

Then several PMMC members on board reached long poles with nets at the ends toward the buoy, as recorded in a video of the rescue.

The startled sea lions slithered one by one off the platform and into the water. The injured animal dove into an outstretched net, the video shows.

The staffers and officers dragged the ensnared animal, a male estimated by Sciacca to be 3 or 4 years old, up onto the boat. Whoops erupted from several on board.

"Everybody calm down, calm down," said one person as the camera rolled.

With tensions running high, they guided the sea lion carefully into a waiting kennel. PMMC staff removed the line and treated the sea mammal's wounds when it arrived safely at the facility, Sciacca said.

PMMC is open seven days a week and can be reached at (949) 494-3050 if injured mammals are found.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World