Sea lion wanders onto San Diego highway, traffic slowed as rescuers head to scene

SAN DIEGO — A sea lion made its way to a highway interchange east of downtown San Diego Friday morning — a fairly long way from the ocean — a shocking sight that left drivers pulling over to help protect the lost creature.

Calls started coming in to 911 dispatchers about 9:40 a.m. reporting that the sea lion was trying to cross state Route 94 near state Route 15, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Several cars stopped and the animal crossed to the center divide, according to CHP’s online logs and CHP Officer Jim Bettencourt.

CHP slowed traffic, and officials asked Sea World to help rescue the sea lion.

By about 10:15 a.m., rescuers had reached and wrangled the wayward sea lion in the grass.

Jeni Smith, a supervisor with the rescue program at Sea World San Diego, acknowledged that it is unusual to find a sea lion so far from the ocean.

“We got in our truck immediately and rushed down to ensure that the sea lion wasn’t hit by a car,” Smith said at the scene. “Being on the freeway is very, very unsafe for a sea lion.”


She said she wasn’t sure exactly where the animal came from.

“It does fit the description of an animal we have gotten reports about that — he’s been in some precarious areas, but they’ve all been next to the water,” she said.


Smith said the animal found near the freeway appeared to be in good condition. It had a little injury on its nose, she said, but it did not look like it was hit by any vehicles.

“I have no idea how that animal got all the way up the freeway on the 94, this far east,” she said, noting that it took the rescue team about 10 minutes to drive from Sea World to the spot where the seal lion was found. “I don’t know how it traveled there.

“This has happened a few times before, but never — as far as I know — never this far inland... ,” Smith continued. “This we are very, very surprised about.”

She said rescuers would take the animal to Sea World for evaluation and rehabilitation so it could be returned to the ocean.