SAN DIEGO — The sea lion that stopped traffic when it wandered across a San Diego freeway last month has been released to the wild — and its rescuers sincerely hope the mischievous animal has learned its lesson this time.
A team from SeaWorld San Diego’s rescue division released the young, male marine mammal off the coast of San Diego Wednesday after it spent several weeks in the park’s care. Veterinarians there collaborated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries to determine that the animal was healthy and safe to return to the wild, rescuers said.
The sea lion wandered onto state Route 94 for several heart-pounding minutes Jan. 7. The sea creature made it all the way to San Diego’s Mount Hope neighborhood — about a five-mile trip from the sea, depending on its route.
Some drivers stopped to warn other motorists and try to shoo the roughly 250-pound animal out of harm’s way. Fortunately, no one was hurt and no car accidents were caused while they waited for help to arrive.
When SeaWorld San Diego finally captured the sea lion in a net on the freeway shoulder, they realized it wasn’t their first encounter.
“This animal has been in our rescue facility before,” said Eric Otjen with the SeaWorld rescue team. “It was rescued in early November from Harbor Island Drive, was released shortly after and has been showing up in kind of odd situations and spots since then. This is the weirdest, though.”
Rescuers were able to confirm it was the same sea lion thanks to tags that they use to keep track of local wildlife. At Wednesday’s release, they were sure the animal remained properly tagged — though they hoped they didn’t bump into him again.
“It’s really neat when we can get an animal in that needs help, rehabilitate it, and then we take it back to its natural home,” Otjen told The Hill. “Give it a second chance at life.”
Or in this case, at least a third or a fourth.