CARLSBAD, Calif. — A “very pregnant” sea lion crashed an upscale San Diego County golf course Thursday afternoon, presenting a unique challenge for rescuers who eventually ushered it back to sea.
Workers at Omni La Costa Resort first spotted the animal on the green Thursday morning. That’s some three miles from the coast, though rescuers later noted that the animal came inland via the Batiquitos Lagoon, likely making its on-ground trek “only” a mile or so.
Golf course staff called SeaWorld Animal Rescue, and when program supervisor Jeni Smith and her team arrived, the animal didn’t appear to be in distress or any immediate danger, she told FOX 5 in a phone interview. That’s in contrast to a harrowing rescue Smith and her team made earlier this year, when a sea lion managed to get onto a busy San Diego freeway.
“She was comfy, cozy on the golf course,” Smith said, chuckling. And the animal didn’t seem terribly concerned about all the fuss.
Still, the sea lion was very evidently pregnant, and the SeaWorld team wanted to get it back to its natural habitat quickly and carefully. Smith said it was too far to the lagoon to simply walk along coaxing the animal back toward water.
When they tried to approach the sea lion, it started waddling the wrong direction — and it was moving pretty fast despite its significant size, Smith said. The rescuers blocked the animal’s path east with their truck and re-grouped.
Smith eventually decided to enlist resort employees, giving them a “quick safety briefing” and handing each of them a “shield” — big sheets of plastic with handles on them that they could use to block the animal’s path. Rescuers and bewildered golf course workers lined up and created a tunnel of sorts, giving the sea lion a path and guiding it toward the parked rescue truck.
The plan worked, and once the sea lion was safely corralled, the rescue team took off for nearby Carlsbad State Beach. There, a crowd of locals and summer tourists watched the rescue with excitement.
For a moment, the show-stealing sea lion didn’t want to leave the truck, Smith said. But eventually she clamored out and back onto the sand, swimming safely into the ocean.
The rescue team thinks it won’t be long before she returns to shore to give birth to her pups — hopefully right on the beach, not on some tennis court somewhere.
In her interview, Smith thanked the Omni staff profusely — not just for the help coaxing the animal, but also for letting them drive the rescue truck onto their pristine course.
“That was the first thing I asked,” she said with a laugh.
SeaWorld doesn’t name the animals it rescues and returns to their habitat, but lifeguards who helped escort the rescue team opted for the golf-themed nickname “Bogey.”
That’s only slightly less on-the-nose than “Freeway,” the widely used nickname for the aforementioned animal that made its way onto state Route 94 in January. That sea lion is actually a repeat offender — the rescue had previously corralled it from busy Harbor Island Drive and even a La Jolla gift shop.
While Bogey and Freeway’s exploits made headlines that are hard to forget, Smith said sea lions making it so far onto shore remains pretty rare. The team thinks the lagoon may have had a food source that the sea lion was seeking, but they are still not sure why it wandered all the way onto the green.