On a Sunday when most people were watching football, some animal lovers finally figured out how to tackle an injured sea lion who had evaded rescue for nearly a month.
"We knew that all of our options were running out and that this animal was getting weaker and that the might not live much longer," said Dr. Frances Gulland with Marine Mammal Center.
After some 20 attempts, the sea lion, nicknamed Abagnale, was finally taken down by two tranquilizer darts Sunday afternoon in Moss Landing Harbor. It was the first time that technique has ever been used with free moving marine mammal in the wild.
He was named after the Leonardo DiCaprio character in the movie "Catch Me When You Can." Marine Mammal Center spokesman Jim Oswald told Bay City News, "Frank Abagnale was always two steps ahead of authorities."
Oswald described the rescue step by step:
With equipment in hand – members slowly approached hoping not to scare him off. Dr. Nicola Pussini, and Dr. Bill Van Bonn, veterinarians based at The Marine Mammal Center’s hospital in Sausalito, were perched at the front of the team’s Zodiac, waiting for the chance to shoot a dart filled with Midazolam – an anti-anxiety sedative similar to valium – into the severely malnourished and dehydrated animal. With the boat’s motor off, drifting stealthily toward the sea lion, Dr. Pussini saw the opportunity and with the first shot – delivered the dart into the animal. The sea lion, dived back into the water. The team kept watch and he then reappeared on another dock. Dr. Pussini was able to shoot another medicated-filled dart into the pinniped, and it was at that stage the sedative began to take effect, and team members – both in the water and on land, moved in for the rescue. This time, the sea lion landed squarely into the team’s net which was strategically placed by him. Volunteer, Kathi Koontz was in the water waiting for the sea lion. “He’s in the net!” she shouted somewhat in disbelief given the numerous attempts that didn’t yield that outcome.
The animal has been in the news all of 2010. He was first spotted at Pier 39 on New Year's Day with fishing wire around his head and neck.
Two days effort to find him failed.
He next appeared 90 miles south in Monterey County, but still apparently did not want to be caught. In one failed attempt a would-be rescuer fell off a dock and into the Monterey Bay.
Sunday was the first time darts filled with a sedative similar to Valium were brought into the rescue mix and they did the trick. The second dart finally calmed Abagnale down enough for him to get into a net.
Rescuers quickly transferred the sea lion back up the coast to Sausalito.
Oswald said the animal is malnourished and will probably be in Sausalito for awhile.
Late Sunday veterinarians anesthetized Abagnale and removed the monofilament that was deeply imbedded into his neck and mouth.
More test will be done Monday.
"It’s a wonderful feeling of relief to be able to rescue this animal, said Sue Pemberton, leader of the water rescue unit. " At the end of the day, no matter how difficult a rescue becomes, it is all worth it when we succeed.”