Wayward sea lion found on SR 37 may have brain damage from toxic algae blooms

SONOMA (KRON) — A stubborn sea lion that kept trying to cross SR 37 in Sonoma Monday morning may be suffering from brain damage from exposure to the same neurotoxin that delayed the opening of Dungeness crab season on the California coast this year, Marine Mammal Center officials said.

The wayward sea lion, nicknamed “School Daze” by the center, was previously rescued from odd locations around the Bay Area. He was released in late January off the Farallon Islands and biologists hoped he would thrive in the wild, but while he was alert and responsive when he turned up today, he had lost 13 pounds, according to Marine Mammal Center spokeswoman Laura Scherr.

This morning, School Daze turned up on SR 37 at Hwy 121 around 9:41 a.m., according to California Highway Patrol officials.

The animal was guided back into the water but kept trying to cross the highway. By 10:43 a.m., the seal was captured by the Marine Mammal Center.

When the sea lion was first spotted, a man got out of his car and was trying to chase the sea lion down, according to initial reports from the CHP.

All eastbound lanes of the highway were blocked and the CHP requested assistance from the Marine Mammal Center. All lanes have reopened.

This sea lion is the second wayward marine mammal to disrupt highway traffic in the North Bay since Friday.

Another sea lion, who was pregnant and later dubbed “Tolay” by the Marine Mammal Center, backed up traffic in the same area of Highway 37 during two days in late December when it repeatedly tried to cross the roadway.

School Daze will get a full examination on Tuesday and an MRI to look for brain damage to see if he might be incapable of returning to the wild.

His strange behavior leads researchers at the center to conclude he may have neurological damage
from domoic acid, Sherr said.

Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin caused by algae blooms that can accumulate in shellfish and other invertebrates and be transmitted to animals who eat them. The toxin can affect humans as well, and its high presence detected in November prompted the state to the delay the opening of Dungeness crab season.

The toxin can also be transmitted to sea lion pups through their mothers’ milk, even weeks after the mother has ingested it, according to a 2014 study by the Marine Mammal Center.

Stay with KRON 4 News for updates.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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