Sea lion found tangled in fishing line with stomach full of rocks is saved by rescuers

It seemed like all the odds were against one poor sea lion, who has undergone a long recovery over the past few months. But thanks to the tireless work of her rescuers, she’s getting a brand new start.

In July, a two-year-old female sea lion was found on a buoy off the coast of Newport Beach, California. She was caught in fishing line with a hook around her neck.

Rescuers from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center went out to help the poor sea lion—but the distressed creature put up a fight, earning the name “Chompers.”

“Let’s just say Chomper gave our rescue team a run for their money and earned her name,” Dr. Deming, PMMC’s Director of Clinical Medicine, said in a press release.

Pacific Marine Mammal Center

The PMMC took Chompers in and healed her entanglement wound, and found her to be in otherwise good shape.

But they noticed something strange: the sea lion refused to eat any fish.

Realizing something else was amiss, they performed an x-ray on Chompers… and discovered why she wasn’t hungry: she had two dozen rocks in her stomach!

This isn’t unheard of seal behavior: the PMMC says that seals will sometimes eat rocks to feel full during times of hunger, like when males fast during mating season or there is a shortage of fish.

The rescuers suspected that Chompers ate rocks after being unable to catch fish due to her injury. But even as her rescuers offered fish, Chompers did not throw up the rocks and return to her normal eating habits.

They gave Chompers nutritional tube feedings, but for a month Chompers continued to lose weight and refuse to eat.

They realized they needed to perform surgery to remove the rocks from her stomach, but the only safe way to do so was through endoscopy, but they didn’t have the proper equipment on hand.

However, veterinarians from the Aquarium of the Pacific offered to provide an endoscope, and the surgery went ahead. With Chompers under anesthesia, the vets removed 12 large rocks from the sea lion’s stomach through her mouth.

The surgery was a success: soon, Chompers had her appetite back, and the PMMC shared a video of her eating her first fish post-surgery on August 3:

“We didn’t realize what happened at first,” Michele Hunter, Director of Animal Care at PMMC, said in a statement. “Her pen mate flung a fish her way and we all froze as she began sniffing the fish.”

“She hadn’t shown any interest in nearly a month! As soon as she picked up the fish our team was so ecstatic! We quickly put together a bowl for her and after that there was no stopping her.”

Over the next two months, Chompers gained back 45 pounds. With her recovery finally complete, the rescuers only had one thing left to do: Release her back into the wild!

On November 6, the PMMC released Chompers back into her native habitat. “Be free and thrive, Chompers,” the PMMC wrote on Facebook.

Congrats, Chompers! We’re so glad that after a long recovery this sea lion is back where she belongs.

It just goes to show the impact a dedicated rescue team can have on the life of an animal. Share this inspiring story!