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Coast Guard gives 'Capt. Hook' a lift to sea

The sea lion, freed of his 70 fishhooks and lines, is taken by cutter to San Clemente Island.

December 18, 2007|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

It took lots of rest, relaxation, hefty fish dinners and coaching, but Captain Hook is over his travel anxiety.

The 1,100-pound sea lion -- named for the 70 hooks found stuck in him when he was rescued off Newport Beach -- was hoisted early Monday onto a Coast Guard cutter for release off San Clemente Island.

"He had more hooks than I've ever seen in one animal," said Michele Hunter of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. The nonprofit facility rescues marine mammals and cares for them until they can be released.

Authorities hope Captain Hook takes to his new home and stops hanging around Newport Beach.

The sea lion was first rescued in October, and the 70 hooks and lines were removed during his first stay at the mammal center. He was released off San Onofre in November, but in less than a week he was spotted around Balboa Pier and then at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort.

While in captivity, Captain Hook ate more than 50 pounds of fish a day at the Laguna Beach care center.

On Monday, the sea lion was coaxed into a cage, which was lifted by 10 volunteers onto a truck that took him from Orange County to the Coast Guard cutter George Cobb, a 175-foot buoy tender at Terminal Island in San Pedro. After a crane lifted the cage onto the cutter, Captain Hook set out at 9 a.m. for the six-hour ride to San Clemente Island, roughly 60 miles off San Diego.

Hunter, the Laguna Beach care center's director of operations and animal care, said staff members worked with Captain Hook for several weeks "to get him comfortable so the cage wasn't a scary place."

The sea lion had no problems Monday morning, even though he had gained a few hundred pounds while in Laguna.

Hunter said sea lions are "opportunistic feeders" who may repeatedly pop up in areas close to humans.

When Captain Hook was rescued the second time, he had only one hook in him, "but the lure was really large," Hunter said.

Center officials called the Coast Guard when they determined the animal was too large for them to transport.

"We do this as operations allow," said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Andrew Munoz. "One of our missions is the protection of marine species. When we can do it, we will."

Hunter added: "We know there are animals out there for him to socialize with."

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