Traffic-bound sea lion could be ill

A wayward juvenile sea lion who likely clambered out of a slough near San Carlos Airport and wandered into one of the city’s busiest intersections Tuesday may have been suffering from toxic-algae poisoning, an increasingly common problem among Bay Area marine life.

The pup made its way to Old County Road near Brittan Avenue before a keen-eyed local called the San Carlos Police Department at approximately 8:15 a.m. Police closed the intersection for 15 minutes while officers corralled the confused 100-pound critter in a kennel normally used for the department’s police dog, Cmdr. Rich Cinfio said.

“It was confused and frightened,” said Cinfio, who helped capture the sea lion. “It was feeling frisky, let’s put it that way — but with some coaxing, we got it into the kennel.”

Scientists at Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center will give the sea lion a complete checkup sometime in the next 24 to 48 hours, said Jim Oswald, spokesman for the center. One of the things they’ll look for is whether the animal may be suffering from domoic acid poisoning, which can happen when sea animals ingest toxic red algae.

It’s too soon to tell, Oswald said, whether the sea lion in San Carlos was suffering from algae poisoning.

The Marine Mammal Center has been studying the effects of domoic acid in marine animals, particularly sea lions, since 1998, Oswald said. Red algae, when ingested by many mammals, acts as a neurotoxin that can cause acute or chronic health problems, including confusion, disorientation and even seizures.

“Sometimes you’ll see a sea lion on the beach, just shaking all over,” Oswald said. He encouraged locals to contact the center anytime they see a marine animal in distress.

The Marine Mammal Center rescues 50 to 60 sea lions per year in the Bay Area that turn out to be sick from domoic acid, Oswald said.

Despite the increases, Tuesday’s sea lion encounter was San Carlos’ first, Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said.

“After the salmon that swam up Pulgas Creek a few years ago, and this, we might be able to start our own Marine World,” Moura said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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