SAN DIEGO — Freeway the sea lion couldn't be stopped. He scoped out eateries near the sea, scooted down a busy urban freeway, and waddled into an urban creek.
In the end, experts at SeaWorld San Diego said, a progressive disease had done enough damage that the park opted to euthanize him to prevent suffering.
"It is with heavy hearts that we share 'Freeway,' the rescued sea lion, passed away yesterday — surrounded with love from his devoted care and rescue teams," the park said Friday on Facebook.
SeaWorld didn't specify the disease or its impacts. It said Freeway contracted the disease before he made headlines.
"Despite extensive treatment, the disease caused his health to deteriorate over time," SeaWorld said. "Given his decline, the team made the extremely difficult, but compassionate decision to humanely euthanize him."
Freeway had been on the move before he stopped traffic last year.
In late 2021, he was rescued or spotted near San Diego International Airport, Naval Base Point Loma, on the Mission Beach boardwalk, and near a deli adjacent to nearby Mission Bay, SeaWorld has said.
Freeway earned his name on Jan. 7, 2022, when he ended up 4 miles from the coast on eastbound State Route 94, a core artery for California's second-largest city.
The 200-pound marine mammal was rescued from a freeway median, according to the California Highway Patrol and SeaWorld.
He was taken to the SeaWorld San Diego Rescue Center for a health assessment and rehabilitation before being returned to the sea in February 2022.
In May, however, Freeway was found wandering again, this time in a creek roughly 1 mile from the ocean. SeaWorld's experts plucked him from Chollas Creek, a concrete-lined stormwater channel, and kept him.
California’s sea lions are West Coast natives protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Their population tripled between 1975 and 2014, according to a 2018 study, prompting San Diego officials to ponder closing coastal beach access and parks to balance their needs with those of humans.
On Friday, SeaWorld San Diego said Freeway's road-trip enthusiasm won't soon be forgotten. "His adventurous spirit won the hearts of all San Diegans and he will be remembered for that and so much more," it said.