In the small, sleepy island town of Sitka, Alaska, not much happens in the way of headline-grabbing news. (I’m allowed to say that because I’m from there). That is until one local happened to stumble across a familiar face in a very unfamiliar location.
Local hospital employee, Eric Radzuikinas, was making his nightshift rounds around 2.30am on August 31 when he came across a 450-kilogram (1,000-pound) Steller’s sea lion awkwardly fumbling its way down the street in town. As the local radio station put it, “How often do you see a sea lion lumbering down the road?”
Multiple agencies, including the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), tried to move the mammal back to the water, even using fire hoses to corral it back to its normal habitat – all to no avail. A spokesperson with the National Marine Fisheries Service said the agency and biologists were monitoring the car-sized animal, which they believe is frightened and confused.
“He is a sub-adult male sea lion,” Julie Speegle with NOAA told KCAW. “He appears to be frightened and confused, and he’s been sort of hiding out in the bushes a little bit. Our law enforcement officers have cordoned off the area with ribbon, and we’re asking members of the public to please avoid the area, so we can allow the animal some space and quiet to calm down.”
“[We’re] hoping that he finds his way back to the water by himself once things calm down a little bit. There is still the possibility of using some approved hazing practices to encourage him in the right direction if the need arises,” she added.
Steller’s sea lions are the largest of the eared seal family, which includes all sea lions and fur seals. Males can reach lengths of over 3 meters (11 feet) and a weight of up to 1,100 kilograms (2,500 pounds). Historically, these blubbery giants were hunted for their meat, fur, and oil. Today they are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and are federally designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) along the western US.
Sea lions can become stranded for a number of reasons, such as after suffering traumatic injuries and bacterial infections like leptospirosis, malnourishment, parasites, or harmful algal blooms that can cause domoic acid poisoning.
If you see a stranded marine mammal, the Marine Mammal Center, who is not involved in the Sitka sea lion’s case, says do not touch it. Stay at least 50 feet away, note its physical characteristics, such as size and condition, determine its exact location, and report it right away to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network toll-free at 877-925-7773 (in the US).
Back in Sitka, the story has a happy ending. Rescuers were able to tranquilize the behemoth and move him back to the water using a front-end loader, reports the Anchorage Daily News.
"It's a good outcome," Speegle told the publication. "He was last seen catching a fish."