It could be the start of a bad joke. A California sea lion tried to cross East Bayshore Road in Palo Alto early Thursday morning but was intercepted by staff from the city's Animal Services.
The 230-pound male sea lion, who has been named "Jamesmossy" after Palo Alto Animal Services staff member James Moss, was seen wandering near the driveway of the animal center, located at 3281 E. Bayshore Road just before dawn, according to witness Dan Knauss, who was jogging with his dog in the area around 6 a.m. Knauss said he encountered flashing lights and saw the large animal at the edge of the road with city workers trying to keep it away from the roadway.
"It was not something I expected to see on my morning jog," he said. The sea lion was heading in his direction at a pretty fast clip, he said. His dog was upset, so he ran around it.
"I talked to a road guy who was driving to work and saw it," Knauss said, noting that the employee appeared to have been from the city's Municipal Services Center. Workers were concerned the animal would be struck by a car on the roadway. The animal services department could not immediately be reached for comment.
The sea lion was reported to the city's police dispatch center. An animal control officer who arrived saw an adult sea lion laying in the bushes just off the road, according to a statement by Animal Services.
"First attempts at capture were unsuccessful. The sea lion appeared to be uninjured and was in no mood for our shenanigans. The main goal shifted from capture, to containment and safety as the morning commute was just beginning."
City staff observed the sea lion move south on the bike path and shooed him from entering the roadway. By the time the animal reached open space, he dove into the thick brush and kept moving south.
"Rustling in the bushes could be heard for another 50 yards until it just stopped. That’s where our officer waited until help could arrive," animal services wrote.
Knauss said animal services employees had a come-along, a long pole with a lasso used to seize an animal, but it was too small for the sea lion's neck, he said. In the meantime, staff called The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which drove down to help rescue the sea lion, which was finally achieved at about 10 a.m.
The Marine Mammal Center staff and the Animal Control Officer formulated a plan, and with a park ranger they cleared a path. Public Works crews were enlisted to supply muscle, according to animal services.
"The brush was thick, and wasps were swarming and stinging, while the Center’s team safely placed a net over the sea lion and secured him into a large metal crate. It took six people to carry the crate with sea lion 20 yards uphill and onto the Center’s rescue truck for transport back to their Sausalito hospital."
Marine Mammal Center spokesman Giancarlo Rulli said Jamesmossy received his unusual name because the names James and Jim were already taken for other sea lions. Staff decided to name him after James Moss because he was the first person who reached out to the Center. The "mossy" part was added because it is marine themed.
Jamesmossy was described as lethargic when he was discovered.
Sea lions and and other large marine mammals are sometimes found in the bay and sloughs where they seek herring and anchovies.
"California sea lions tend to travel farther into tributaries and to the South Bay sloughs for easier food sources, such as carp," Rulli said.
California sea lions are born on the Channel Islands around June 15. Since this summer, the animals have experienced an outbreak of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can cause kidney failure. About two-thirds of the sea lions infected with the disease that have arrived to the center have died, he said.
The disease can be spread to humans, dogs and terrestrial wildlife. It is distributed through the urine of the animals and in stagnant freshwater pools, but Rulli stressed that it is rare for humans to contract leptospirosis. The center has frequently received calls from swimmers and surfers regarding spread of the disease. In sea water, the salt rapidly kills the bacteria, so it does not tend to spread, he said.
It is unknown if Jamesmossy has leptospirosis, Rulli said. Veterinarians are conducting laboratory tests to see if he has any diseases.
The Marine Mammal Center's veterinary team completed an exam of the sea lion on Friday morning. The veterinary team determined the sea lion is adult male. He was moderately emaciated and dehydrated. Veterinarians anesthetized Jamesmossy before his exam.
The sea lion will soon begin a feeding regimen consisting of herring, and he will also be given fluids daily. Jamesmossy will stay in a temporary intensive-care-unit holding pen until veterinarians determine he can be moved into a standard rehabilitation pool pen to continue his treatment, Rulli said on Friday.
Anyone who encounters a sea lion should remain at least 50 feet away and not interact with the animal. The Marine Mammal Center asks the public to report any sightings to them by calling the 24-hour hotline at 415-289-7325 (SEAL) and sending photos on its website.