Police in Northern California picked up an unusual hitchhiker early Sunday: A friendly sea lion pup that had left the water and decided to go for a walk down the Pacific Coast Highway.
The sea lion pup was found at 1 a.m. on a foggy stretch of Highway 1, just south of Fort Bragg and about a quarter of a mile from the ocean, said Mendocino County Sheriff’s Deputies.
"Due to the darkness and the dense fog the animal was very difficult to see and would have certainly been struck by a vehicle if the deputies had not stopped," the department said in a news release.
The sea lion, which had been tagged, was "extremely friendly with the deputies, rubbing against their legs for attention."
He even posed for a photo:
The sea lion pup was about 30 inches long and weighed about 20 pounds. Deputies contacted the Marine Mammal Center and gave the organization the information on the tag. As it turned out, the reason the sea lion was so friendly was that he had learned to interact with people during a previous rescue.
The sea lion had beed rehabilitated at the organization's facility at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, Calif., then released, according to the Press Democrat.
As the pup was not in any distress, deputies were asked to bring him back to the ocean. They put him in the back of the cruiser, fastened his seat belt and gave him a lift home -- but snapped one more photo along the way:
As of Wednesday, the friendly pup may have finally made some nonhuman friends, as police said he has so far kept to the water.
"There's no reports of him running down the street or anything," Mendocino County sheriff's Capt. Greg Van Patten told the Associated Press.
Sick and stranded sea lions have become increasingly common since 2013, due at least in part to the disappearance of some of their prey, such as sardines, from local waters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said more than 1,000 California sea lion pups and yearlings were found stranded in March of this year, compared to fewer than 200 in the same period last year.
To report a lost or stranded sea lion pup, contact a rescue organization closest to you. NOAA has a full list on its website, available here. And in California, the Marine Mammal Center can be reached 24 hours a day at 415-289-SEAL.
NOAA said rescued and rehabilitated sea lion pups have, thus far, had a high rate of survival.