Wildlife

Sea lion wanders inland and Sitka officials try to usher it back to water

A Steller sea lion that wandered into Sitka sits in the doorway of a Penrod Hall, an old dormitory. The sea lion was first seen in the early hours of Friday morning. On Saturday, officials tried to usher the creature to the ocean. Sept. 1, 2018 (Roberta White)
Officials gather in front of a Steller sea lion that wandered into Sitka. Sept. 1, 2018. (Roberta White)
A Steller sea lion sits in the doorway of an old dormitory in Sitka. Officials are trying to usher the animal back to sea. Sept. 1, 2018. (Roberta White)
“And we are on the move,” the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department wrote on Facebook about this photo, where officials tried to usher a sea lion back to the harbor. Sept. 1, 2018. (Roberta White)
The Sitka Volunteer Fire Department sprays a Steller sea lion with water in an attempt to move it toward the harbor. Sept. 1, 2018 (Roberta White)
Firefighters with the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department try to usher a Steller sea lion to the sea. Sept. 1, 2018 (Roberta White)
A Steller sea lion was ushered down to the harbor, but didn’t quite make it. “Right before he went into the woods in this area,” the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department of this photograph in a Facebook post. Sept. 1, 2018. (Roberta White)

[Editor's note: This story has been updated. See our current story here.] 

A Steller sea lion has wandered into the Southeast Alaska community of Sitka, and officials are trying to usher the animal back into the ocean.

The sea lion was first seen running down a road around 2 a.m. on Friday morning, said Dave Miller, chief of the Sitka Volunteer Fire Department.

On Saturday morning, the sea lion had wound up in the doorway of Penrod Hall, an old dormitory at Mt. Edgecumbe High School, Miller said. The building is on Japonski Island, which separates Sitka's airport and a local hospital from much of the rest of the community.

"I was impressed by how big (the sea lion) is," said Miller, who estimated it to be about 8-feet long.

The animal was about a quarter mile from the water — the farthest inland Miller has ever seen one.

"I would say it's unusual," said Julie Speegle, spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The sea lion is an adult male that is at least 8 years old, Speegle said. The animal appears to be healthy.

"He's got good energy … he just seems to be scared and confused," Speegle said.

Steller sea lions inhabit areas across the North Pacific, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, from Japan to California. Males can grow up to about 1,500 pounds, Speegle said.

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the Sitka Police Department, and firefighters tried to usher it to sea on Saturday, Speegle said.

Crews made a blockade with their vehicles and then sprayed the sea lion with water from firefighters' hoses — "not full force," Miller said, just enough move the animal along.

"It started taking off … went down, oh, about halfway to the water, with us sort of pushing it along with the hose," Miller said. "And all of a sudden, it decided 'I'm done with this,' and it went into the woods."

"He's hanging out in the bushes," Speegle said Saturday. "But he is closer (to the sea)."

By Saturday afternoon, the animal had been left alone to rest, Miller said. "You don't want to put too much stress on it," he said.

A crew is going to keep watch overnight and reassess the situation Sunday morning, Speegle said.

"We're definitely asking people to please stay away from the area, so he has an opportunity to calm down," she said.

Correction: This story first said the sea lion was a sub-adult male; this has been updated to reflect more recent information.