One question school board chairman Austin Drukker didn’t think he’d be asking himself on a recent trip out West was, “What should I name this ailing sea lion?”
Mr. Drukker was in California with his fiancée, Joanne Broccoli, visiting her sister and brother-in-law in October, when they got the call.
“Someone had spotted a distressed seal on the beach,” he said. It turned it was a sea lion, which looks similar to a seal but has a few distinct characteristics, like ear flaps and longer fore flippers.
Ms. Broccoli’s sister and brother-in-law volunteer with the Marine Mammal Center, which rescues animals that are sick, trapped, injured — even shot.
When they found the sea lion, he looked like someone had let the air out of him.
“They have to approach the seal a certain way and they have people that have boards with handles on the back so that they can get on either side of the seal.”
The sea lion howled as they tried to help him.
“They’ll bite you, you have to be careful,” Mr. Drukker said.
“We had a big — it looks like dog crate — and they put it on two poles, so four of us can carry it.”
“We put the dog crate in front [and] kind of prod and guide him into the crate…
“Once you get him in, he pretty much was quiet,” he said.
“Then the fun begins,” carrying a 130-pound seal in soft sand, Mr. Drukker said. “It’s like you’re carrying the Shah of Iran.”
All-in-all, it was about an hour and a half and a lot of sweat.
“ ‘Because you were new here,’ they said, ‘you get to name the seal,’ so I wanted to name it Ridgie” for Ridgefield, Mr. Drukker said.
It turned out Ridgie had a severe case of leptospirosis — a bacterial infection that is communicable to humans.
Mr. Drukker and the rest of the team were told to shower, wash their clothes, and not eat anything until they had.
“It was really scary,” he said.
The Marine Mammal Center, on its page for Ridgie, said it’s extremely rare for animals with his level of leptospirosis (a “lepto” score of 28) to survive.
“Ridgie came to us with the highest lepto score we have seen all year and had little chance of survival,” the site reports. The staff was concerned his kidneys might have already been too damaged.
But in a few weeks, Ridgie recovered and his lepto score was zero. He was released into the Pacific Ocean.
There are videos of him on YouTube and the Marine Mammal Center’s web site.
Mr. Drukker received email updates about Ridgie throughout his recovery.
“He looked phenomenal when they put him in the water,” Mr. Drukker said. “Hopefully he’ll go off and live a productive life.”
To read the Marine Mammal Center’s full account and watch videos of Ridgie’s rescue, visit marinemammalcenter.org.