Baby sea lion reco­vering after Coast Guard rescue

A baby sea lion found on a Washington beach stranded, emaciated and suffering from various wounds is being nursed back to health at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito after getting a lift on a Coast Guard long-range aircraft.

The director of veterinary science at the center says  “Leo” — a Steller sea lion pup is — is “settling in just fine in his new home” after being taken to the facility last week.

Leo was found early last month along the shores of Grays Harbor, Washington, a bay on the rugged and wild southern Washington coast.  The now four-month old pup had been separated from its mother when it was saved by rescuers from what would have been a certain death.

With Leo now being cared for at the center, Dr. Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at the facility, told SFBay:

“His wounds have healed well, and he is exhibiting normal Steller sea lion behaviors. He has a new California sea lion roommate in his pen and is getting along very well with the other animal.”

Leo was initially taken to a wildlife center near Seattle, but because he was so young and so badly emaciated, it was determined that he would need the care that the specialists in Sausalito could provide.

Kristin Wilkinson, a “stranding coordinator” with the  National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, said:

“Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Mammal Investigations responded and picked up the pup for a health assessment and determined rehabilitation was necessary, given the emaciated condition and age of the animal.  Steller sea lions nurse for around one year and without rehabilitation, the animal would have died.”

The federal agency became involved because Steller sea lions along the western coast of the continental U.S. are considered a “still recovering” species after previously being listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  NOAA works to protect and restore the populations of endangered and threatened marine species.

So, when agency officials began working on how to get Leo the 800 miles or so to Sausalito, they asked the Coast Guard for help with a special flight.

Once the flight was arranged, Leo was taken to a Coast Guard air facility in Seattle, put in a crate, strapped in aboard a Coast Guard HC-130H and flown to an air station in Sacramento.

The Coast Guard pilot, Capt. Douglas Nash, said of his mission:

“This flight showcases just one of the many diverse mission sets that our crew are prepared to carry out at a moment’s notice.”

From Sacramento, Leo was driven to his new home in Sausalito, where he’s keeping company with other rescued mammals, including cousins — the California sea lion — and Northern seal fur pups.

Johnson says Leo will be kept at the center until he can survive on his own:

“Right now the center is focusing on getting Leo big and strong, and keeping him wild, so that we can release him in the future.”