Already injured sea lion shot in face

Posted at 7:46 PM, Dec 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-15 22:46:30-05

In October, 10News was on a foot patrol with Coast Guardsmen when one of them spotted a sea lion on the dock in Mission Bay.

Fishing line was wrapped so tightly around its neck, it had cut through the skin, and its eye was gouged out.

The Coast Guard members called SeaWorld, and a rescue crew came out, but there was not much they could do. A larger animal would not let anyone get close, and the sea lion slipped into the water.

Dr. Todd Schmitt, who is SeaWorld San Diego's Senior Veterinarian, went back with a tranquilizer dart. They got him, and were ready to catch him in the water. They had to be conservative with the dose, so he was still alert and kept evading them. After two hours, they had to give up on the chase.

"It's just one of those things that you know you want to help them, but you can't get close to them and that's part of wildlife," he said.

Schmitt was still concerned because the fishing line would be digging deeper and deeper.

"We could see the line was actually eating into the side of his face," Schmitt said. "That had actually healed over. Some of the line was buried under the skin."

Last week, the sea lion showed up on the dock again looking more frail.

Schmitt returned with a dart that contained a higher dose.

The rescue was not without risk. They had to have a boat in the water in case the animal fell in. Once they had the dock surrounded, Scmitt hit him with the tranquilizer dart, and they headed to SeaWorld.

They had the animal sedated and removed the fishing line. An X-Ray revealed what looked like a battle wound. There was shrapnel in its head. Someone shot him in the eye and the bullet got lodged in his jaw.

Schmitt was not sure who did it, but he had a theory.

"These animals may be desperate for food," he said. "[He was] probably following a fishing vessel."

He thinks a fisherman may have shot him. They plan to hand the bullet off to National Marine Fisheries to see if they want to do testing and go after the shooter.

"It's a horrific act that someone would do this to an animal that's really just trying to fend for themselves."

Regardless of how it happened, the sea lion should be healthy enough to head home in about a month.

"He looks fantastic," Schmitt said. "He's actually doing quite well."