Mark Crosse  /  The Fresno Bee via AP
A sea lion basks in the sun on the back of a California Highway Patrol cruiser on Monday on a rural road northeast of the San Joaquin Valley town of Los Banos, Calif.
updated 2/10/2004 10:43:58 PM ET 2004-02-11T03:43:58

A bullet was found lodged in the head of a sea lion discovered flopping along a road in central California some 60 miles from the ocean.

The 300-pound male was spotted by motorists near Los Banos Monday morning and picked up by animal rescue workers later in the day. Initial speculation was that the sea lion swam up the San Joaquin River from the ocean and through a series of canals in search of food.

Animal rescue personnel now believe the sea lion may have been disoriented because of the bullet in the back of its skull.

“We don’t know how recently this happened,” said spokeswoman Cynthia Schramm of the Marine Mammal Center. “He looks good. He’s not malnourished, so he’s obviously been feeding. It hasn’t incapacitated him.”

Veterinarians at the center’s hospital in Sausalito had not decided Tuesday whether to remove the bullet. Schramm said the sea lion would remain under observation for at least a week while officials determine whether he is healthy enough to return to the ocean.

Schramm thought it unlikely the shooter would ever be tracked down, even though federal authorities were notified of the case.

“These cases often go unsolved. It’s against the law to harm or harass any marine mammal, but it’s very hard to prosecute these cases because no one sees them happen,” she said.

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