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Natural Perspectives: Survey turns into a sea lion rescue

September 01, 2010|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • Orange County Conservation Corps members keep an eye on the injured sea lion, waiting for rescuers to arrive.
Orange County Conservation Corps members keep an eye… (HB Independent )

Last Thursday morning, I led a crew of 12 newly hired corps members from the Orange County Conservation Corps on a wildlife survey of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. The corps members use checklists and photo identification sheets to identify a number of key invertebrates, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. But first they have to find the wildlife, and that's usually where the fun comes in.

Vic joined us at noon, and man, did we ever have an exciting tale for him. We had just begun our early morning wildlife survey at the boardwalk when a photographer told us that he had seen an injured sea lion by the tide gates.

I told the corps members that we would end the wildlife survey and go search for the sea lion instead. Wildlife rescue always takes precedence over our regular educational program.

Because of their outstanding performance at this search-and-rescue task, I'm going to mention them all. Members of this crew were Kevin Brisbin, Cynthia Duque, Raquel Gomez, Raul Gutierrez, Michael Hernandez, Danny Ledesma, Jose Muñoz, Natalie Ramos, Manuel Sanchez, Ricardo Sanchez, Ana Torres and Edward Vasquez.

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After calling the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, we hastened to the tide gates to locate the sea lion. I thought it would be easy to find, but it wasn't. We didn't see it in outer Bolsa Bay. It didn't appear to be along the muddy banks of inner Bolsa Bay, either.

We looked along the Wintersburg flood control channel, but the flap gates would have prevented a sea lion from entering. Not being able to locate the animal, I called the Bolsa Chica Conservancy to see if they had had any reports of an injured sea lion. They had received plenty of reports in the previous two days, but no one had given a specific location. They thought that it might be in the pocket marsh. My crew searched all over the pocket marsh, even under palm fronds, but didn't find the sea lion.

The only place we hadn't looked was the full tidal basin, so we headed over there. Some of the crew ran ahead, then came running back. They had located the sea lion.

The animal was beached on Rabbit Island below the overlook by the tide gates. It had a gaping wound on its right flank and didn't look alive. Normally, we would never venture off the trail, but this was a special circumstance. I asked the corps members to determine if the sea lion was still breathing. They headed down the slope to the edge of the water, with only a narrow channel separating them from the wounded animal.

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