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Lifeguards: Don’t call 911 for sea lion rescues at La Jolla Cove

The sight of malnourished sea lions at La Jolla Cove has prompted numerous 911 calls.
The sight of malnourished sea lions at La Jolla Cove has prompted numerous 911 calls.
Pat Sherman

Concerned citizens and visitors to La Jolla’s beaches have been excessively calling 911 to report malnourished and dehydrated sea lion pups, reports San Diego lifeguard Lt. Rich Stropky, which is “bogging down the system.”

He said leading up to and during President’s Day weekend, beachgoers were calling the police emergency line instead of the SeaWorld rescue hotline at (800) 541-7325.

“911 is for true emergency and human being emergency, not animal rescue,” Stropky said, noting a possible reason for the misdirected calls is the worry SeaWorld might not respond.

Addressing the concern, SeaWorld spokesperson Dave Koontz said SeaWorld responds to calls for rescues all across San Diego County and has rescued more than 100 sea lions in the last few weeks. Since Jan. 1, more than 200 sea lions have been taken into SeaWorld care.

“Some people have called us and we have not been able to respond until a few hours later or even the next day, just due to the volume of animals in need of assistance,” Koontz said.

“But if you call us, we get the information directly and in a more timely fashion (as opposed to calling 911),” Koontz said.

Characterizing the situation as “intense,” Koontz said pups born last summer are now malnourished because they’re having difficulty accessing food sources since weaning from their mothers. He said pups being rescued, at six to seven months old, are barely above their birth weight.

“It’s not a question of how quickly we want to get to where the animal is, it’s a question of the number of animals we’re having to assist,” he said.

As a word of caution, Koontz said even if the animals appear to be in a compromised state, humans should maintain a safe distance from them. “Do not approach these animals,” he said. “They are still wild animals and it could be a dangerous situation.”

• SEE RELATED STORYCity hiring pinniped expert to manage sea lion situation: Could use of drones be part of the sea lion deterrent picture?lajollalight.com/news/2015/feb/18/sea-lion-behviorist/