Wayward sea lion Gilligan goes home

Gilligan rushes to return to the ocean at Rodeo Beach in Marin County, in a still from video taken by trained responders from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. The sea lion spent several days at the center after being discovered along the highway east of Tracy on Sunday morning. (The Marine Mammal Center/Courtesy)

His tour went a few days over three hours, but then again so did his namesake's. After several days of rest and recovery at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Gilligan the sea lion got to go home, no worse for wear.

The young male sea lion was discovered wandering along Interstates 5 and 205 east of Tracy early on Sunday morning. The California Highway Patrol were first to respond to the reports of a not-so-fishy situation on the highway, quickly calling in the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and the Marine Mammal Center. Using a net and barriers, staff from the three agencies worked together to heard young Gilligan out from his resting place amid the remains of a car under a tree and into a crate.

Then, Gilligan was taken to the Sausalito center for a full medical exam, including X-rays, an ultrasound and bloodwork, to ensure he wasn’t wandering due to a health issue and hadn’t been injured on his misadventure.

“Gilligan checked all the positive behavioral signs we look for when caring for a growing male California sea lion during rehabilitation, he had quite a feisty demeanor,” medical director Dr. Cara Field said in a press release on Thursday.

Gilligan spent most of the week recovering from his ill-fated trip and feasting on sustainable herring. Given that he likely got lost searching for a hearty meal, getting lost worked out for the youngster.

“It’s likely this sea lion took a wrong turn in the Delta and got lost following a potential food source,” said Dr. Shawn Johnson, vice president of veterinary medicine and science at the Marine Mammal Center. “Subadult and adult male sea lions are more likely than their female counterparts to explore more remote waterways in pursuit of an easy meal.”

As sea lion populations have increased in recent years, the Marine Mammal Center has received a rise in calls to their rescue hotline and seen more of the young males chasing food sources deep into the California Delta.

On Thursday, staff at the Marine Mammal Center determined it was safe for Gilligan to leave.

“Once this animal’s bloodwork showed no signs of ill health, our team was ready to return this healthy sea lion back to his ocean home,” Field said.

A team of trained responders took him to Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands, where he rushed back to the ocean he’d left days before.

The Marine Mammal Center asks anyone who spots a wandering sea lion far from the ocean to keep a safe distance, and call their hotline at 415-289-7325. It’s OK to take photos, they said, but if you’re not using your zoom or they’re reacting to you, you’re too close.

“We’re grateful to the California Highway Patrol and San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department for their assistance during the rescue and helping provide this animal a second chance,” Johnson said.

For more information, visit www.marinemammalcenter.org.

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