When fishing boat captain Chad Steffen spotted an animal floating in kelp on the surface of the ocean not far from San Onofre, he said he and two deckhands knew they had to spring into action.
“Being there for as long as I have, you kind of know when an animal is struggling,” Steffen said, recalling the incident on Friday, April 29. “I saw a green streak around his face and head. He was clearly in distress.
Steffen circled his boat, the Clemente operated by Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching, a few times to get a better look. Then he, Mauricio Lopez and Stanley Filipowicz got to work as some of the fishermen on board looked on.
“We were right between the fishing grounds and most of the guys were in the kitchen, but I had come up to check something on my line,” said Scott Allen, a resident of Aliso Viejo who was three-quarters out. by day. trip to catch rockfish. “(Steffen) was going around in circles and then he suddenly cut his engine and ran to the back of the boat and leaned forward and I heard him yell, ‘I got it’.”
After a few tries, the animal was picked up in a landing net and the three hoisted it aboard the Clemente.
Allen watched as Steffen held the seal and the two sailors “carefully cut strand by strand” to free the animal. As they unclenched its pointed muzzle, the animal tried to bite.
“He was very agitated and would have bitten us,” Steffen said. “I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and Stanley and Mauricio got to work cutting the net. It was all around his face and a few pieces went through his mouth like a piece of horse.
Within two minutes, the seal was back in the water.
Once free, the animal swam several times around the boat as “he said thank you”, Allen added.
The fishermen on board cheered and shouted.
“They were pretty thrilled,” Steffen said.
At the time, Steffen thought the pinniped was a harbor seal or possibly a northern fur seal, but later that day Donna Kalez, who runs Dana Wharf, got confirmation from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center that the animal was an endangered Guadalupe Fur. seal.
According to Kalez’s logs, the last time a member of his team spotted one of the rare seals was in 2019.
Kalez said his staff frequently help entangled seabirds and other ocean creatures such as sea turtles, dolphins and even a great white shark.
“Everyone here likes to help out,” she said. “They want to save marine life. We have a long history of disentangling marine life.
In recent years, Guadalupe fur seals have been found emaciated and starving along parts of the California coast. In 2015, strandings were eight times higher than historical averages, leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare an “unusual mortality event.”
Commercial sealers hunted Guadalupe fur seals in the 1700s and 1800s to the point that they were thought to have become extinct by the early 1900s.
They were rediscovered on the island of Guadalupe off Mexico in 1954 by researchers from the University of California. In recent years, however, some have been born on the Channel Islands further north, which are known to be colonies of sea lions.
They are usually found further offshore.