It was a particularly foggy day at Rodeo Beach on Saturday, but that didn’t stop the crowds from showing up to bid farewell to Mufasa. The juvenile male sea lion was treated at the Marine Mammal Center over the past two weeks for an entanglement injury. Mufasa was rescued on July 1 at Commercial Wharf II in the heart of Monterey with his head wrapped up in monofilament fishing line. He had been spotted several months earlier, but had managed to elude rescuers until a careful plan was worked out to place a net in the water underneath where he was resting on the wharf. He was then coaxed to jump off the wharf, into the awaiting net below.
Mufasa was brought to the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands, where he weighed in at 147 pounds. Veterinarians sedated him and removed the fishing line, which had cut deeply into his skin. Entanglement can be an especially bad problem for a growing sea lion like Mufasa, because the foreign object just becomes tighter and tighter as the animal grows. It can lead to starvation when it restricts jaw movement, or severe infection as it cuts into the skin. Ocean trash is a major problem for sea lions, because these gregarious animals are naturally curious and their long snouts can easily get entangled in discarded fishing line, plastic wrapping bands, or other floating debris.
Fortunately, the cuts around Mufasa’s head and neck were easy to treat with antibiotics, and his stay at the Marine Mammal Center was only about two weeks. While a crowd of onlookers waited on the foggy beach, Mufasa sat patiently in his carrier as he was rolled across the sand. The carrier was opened up as volunteers with large boards "herded" the animal toward the rolling surf. Mufasa did not need any encouragement and raced down the beach directly into the ocean as the crowd cheered and clapped. It is quite a moving sight to see an animal return to its natural habitat.
The Marine Mammal Center is a rescue center and hospital for sea lions, elephant seals, harbor seals, and other marine mammals. Animals are brought in when they become injured, sick, or orphaned in the waters of San Francisco Bay or a 600-mile stretch of the northern and central California coastline. The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit organization that is a partner with the National Park Service. Their facility in the Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is located on the site of a former Nike missile station, a great example of the concept of "swords to ploughshares." They get most of their financial support from individual donors and rely on a workforce of more than 1,000 volunteers. Most animals are rescued after concerned people call the Marine Mammal Center to report a problem. If you see a distressed or possibly diseased animal on a beach, call the center’s hotline at 415-289-SEAL.
The Marine Mammal Center is located at 2000 Bunker Road, just up the hill from Rodeo Beach. The state-of-the-art facility, which generates 20% of its power from solar panels, has two observation areas that provide visitors with close up views of the animals in their pens, allowing them to watch Marine Mammal Center staff and volunteers as they feed and treat their patients. The center is open to the public daily, 10:00AM to 5:00PM, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Guided tours for groups are available, or visitors can take self-guided tours.