South City firefighters aid stranded sea lion

A California Sea Lion discovered two miles inland in a canal in South San Francisco is struggling to survive after an innovative rescue effort by nearby firefighters saved its life Monday.

The four-year-old male sea lion was first spotted about 9 a.m. in the water near 400 North Canal St., just across the road from the No. 61 Fire Station, according to Captain Travis Nuckolls, who led the rescue effort Monday. The sea lion was swimming up and down the canal and appeared to be lost, Nuckolls said.

The station’s firefighters kept a periodic watch on the sea lion to see if the outgoing tide would take it back out to San Francisco Bay.

When the firefighters checked in on the sea lion at 1:30 p.m., they noticed that it had become mired in the mud as a result of the outgoing tide. Nuckolls then called the Marine Mammal Center, a Sausalito-based organization that specializes in rescuing stranded animals.

While waiting for units from the MMC to arrive, firefighters from the station unloaded an aerial ladder to span the length of canal, running parallel above the sea lion, which was struggling to breathe in the murky shallow waters.

From the ladder, the station set up a pulley system, which they attached to an extra large dog kennel brought by MMC workers to load the 235-pound sea lion, Nuckolls said.

After a few minutes, MMC workers and firefighters were able to coax the sea lion into the kennel, and with the animal in tow, the ladder was raised, lifting the package back onto the street.

The MMC workers loaded the sea lion into their animal rescue vehicle and transported it back to headquarters in Sausalito. As of Tuesday morning, the sea lion was resting at the MMC headquarters, but it was still experiencing significant respiratory problems, according to the organization’s spokeswoman, Mieke Eerkens.

She said the fact that an adult sea lion was found so far away from a normal habitat indicates there is something likely seriously wrong with its health.

“Whenever we rescue lost older animals that should know where to forage, it always raises alarms bells that there is a serious condition,” Eerkens said.

For the time being, the sea lion — newly dubbed “Station 61” in recognition of the South San Francisco firefighters' efforts — is resting in the MMC’s headquarters, where it is expected to undergo more extensive health tests in the next few days, according to Eeerkens.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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