When they first caught a glimpse of the little brown animal resting in their almond orchard, workers thought they’d spotted some kind of giant otter. As it turned out, their mystery visitor was a creature no one expected to see in the middle of central California farmland.
A California sea lion pup had wandered into their midst. While sea lions are abundant along the California coastline, this one had somehow traveled inland to Mape’s Ranch in Modesto, ending up at least a mile away from the nearest water and 100 miles from the ocean.
“Hoppie,” as he’s now known, is thought to have swum up the San Joaquin River. For some reason, he climbed out and set off across land. While no one knows for sure, it’s possible the year-old pup somehow lost his mother and became disoriented. Whatever happened, Hoppie did a lot of hopping to get as far as he did.
“I thought, ‘That’s the biggest sea otter I’ve ever seen,’” Billy Lyons, Mape’s manager, told the Los Angeles Times. “I just couldn’t believe it to be honest with you. We just stood there and kept an eye to make sure it wouldn’t hurt itself by jumping into one of the underground pipelines.”
Fate smiled on Hoppie that day. Mape’s Ranch has been recognized on a number of occasions for its wildlife conservation efforts. Because of that, Lyons knew how to get the right kind of help quickly. He placed a call to officials at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge’s assistant wildlife manager, Eric Hopson, advised National Marine Fisheries Service of the situation, and they in turn called in the Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, Calif. Hopson went to the orchard himself to oversee the safe capture of Hoppie.
“Once he got into the cage, he was so tired he fell asleep right away and was doing some snoring,” Hopson told the Fresno Bee. Had things not worked out so perfectly, however, Hoppie’s situation could easily have had a darker outcome.
“He probably would have starved to death,” Hopson said. “He was already emaciated and lacking in body weight. Unless he could find his way back to the river and back to salt water, he would have eventually died a slow death.”
In addition to malnourishment, Hoppie was disoriented and had a number of open sores. It’s hard to imagine an animal that travels by water dragging himself over land for nearly a mile. It must have been a grueling and frightening journey. It’s no wonder he was such a bedraggled and weary traveler when he stopped to rest at the Mape’s Ranch almond orchard.
“Hoppie is a very lucky sea lion in so many ways,” Hopson told the Fresno Bee. “I was just part of the process. It was great teamwork all around and a lot of lucky circumstances.” Hoppie still needs medical care and a lot of fattening up, but he’s doing well as you’ll see in this video from the Marine Mammal Center:
Hats off to the animal-loving workers at Mape’s Ranch. They could have shrugged and returned to work after noticing little Hoppie, but they didn’t. They called the right people and they kept an eye on him to be sure he remained safe until help could arrive.
Thanks to their concern, Hoppie is well on the road to rehabilitation, recovery and lots of fresh fish dinners.
Photo credit: Thinkstock