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Hoppie: Sea lion pup found 100 miles inland on almond farm

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Hoppie might be an unusual name for a sea lion pup but according to a news release from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA on April 16 the name fits the story of this wayward youngster.

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While many sea lion pups have been found stranded along the California beaches, Hoppie was found about eight miles west of Modesto in the midst of an almond farm. He was almost a mile from the San Joaquin River, near the boundary of the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.

"The ranch hands were working in the almond orchard and that's when they spotted it," said Eric Hopson, the assistant wildlife refuge manager. "When I found it, it was actively moving along the edge of a farm field road near the almond orchard. The animal had already walked at least half-a-mile from the river and was obviously confused."

At first the ranch hands thought the pup was a sea otter. They called their boss, Billy Lyons, who then contacted the wildlife refuge. In the meantime they monitored the sea lion to make sure it jump into one of the underground pipelines in the orchard.

Hopson notified the National Marine Fisheries Service which in turn asked The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito to step in. The center rescues and rehabilitates seals and sea lions but didn't have anyone to spare for the four hour round trip inland. A volunteer offered to meet Hopson halfway if he could trap the sea lion and drive him to a meeting point.

Keeping in mind that while small the pup was still a wild animal, Hopson carefully coaxed the frightened pup into a wire cage inside his truck. "Once he got into the cage, he was so tired he fell asleep right away and was doing some snoring," he said.

Hoppie is at the age when pups first leave their mothers’ sides. Some get lost which may be why the sea lion went up the river instead of staying in the ocean. It's unknown why Hoppie left the river or hopped such a long way on the ground.but it was his lucky break. "He probably would have starved to death. He was already emaciated and lacking in body weight," Hopson said. "Unless he could find his way back to the river and back to saltwater, he would have eventually died a slow death."

He’s spent the last couple of weeks at The Marine Mammal Center where staff are giving him five pounds of fish per day and around-the-clock care. "He's feeding well. He hasn't yet gained weight, but that is totally normal and he will continue to gain weight as he continues to get accustomed to his new surroundings," Laura Sherr with the Marine Mammal Center told the media.

In an exclusive follow-up interview the Center said that Hoppie was underweight and malnourished when he arrived at the hospital, weighing just 36 lbs when a sea lion his age should weigh about 60-70 lbs. “Since arriving, he has been eating well and even started eating fish out the pool (as opposed to needing to be tube-fed), so that’s a great sign.”

The Marine Mammal Center said that Hoppie is the second sea lion to be found in near Modesto. In February 2004, a 321-pound sea lion named Chippy was found lounging on a police cruiser and rescued by California Highway Patrol officers. The center also cared for Chippy before returning him to the wild.

Hoppie will remain with his caregivers until he doubles his weight and is healthy. Currently he shares a pool of water with other orphans found starving on the California shores.

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