LOS BANOS — It’s not the first time a sea lion got lost in Merced County, but it might just be the cutest.
Confused, malnourished and underweight, a small sea lion was found in the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge last month after swimming up the San Joaquin River. Believed to be less than a year old, the pup was named Hoppie after the last name of the man who found him.
Hoppie was rescued on March 31 and taken to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, where volunteers and medical staff are giving him around-the-clock care – and lots of affection.
“He’s doing really well, and he’s eating,” said Laura Sherr, spokeswoman for the center. Sherr said Hoppie weighs about 16.5 kilograms, or more than 36 pounds, and is eating about 5 pounds of fish per day.
Although officials don’t know why Hoppie got lost or how he ended up in the Los Banos area, they said he has a chance at a normal life back in the wild.
Sherr said sea lion rescues are rare in the San Joaquin Valley, and Hoppie is the second to be found in the region. In February 2004, a 321-pound sea lion named Chippy was found lounging on a police cruiser and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers.
After being treated for a bullet in his head and receiving other rehabilitative care, Chippy was released into the ocean near Point Reyes National Seashore.
Officials at The Marine Mammal Center are hoping for the same happy ending for Hoppie, who was observed to have a few open sores on his skin.
“We’re doing some tests to determine what might be causing the sores. It depends on how well he eats and what’s causing the irritation on the skin,” Sherr said of releasing Hoppie. “Once we think he is capable of surviving in the wild on his own, we will release him back out into the ocean.”
The Marine Mammal Center, which rescues and rehabilitates seals and sea lions across 600 miles of California coastline, is caring for 175 animals at its Sausalito hospital. The organization said it needs help to continue providing for Hoppie and his pen mates.
“It’s about a dollar for a pound of fish,” Sherr said, adding that many animals also need medical care. According to the organization’s website, some of the animals suffer from gunshots, shark bites, boat strikes or entanglement in trash in the ocean.