Of all the waves, on all the beaches, in all the California seaside towns, one young sea lion pup is lucky it washed up on Calder Nold’s watch.
According to WDTN, the Santa Cruz based surf instructor noticed the exhausted marine mammal struggling in rough waters two weeks ago. It was getting thrown up against the rocks and unable to reach land on its own.
Nold was with a student at the time, surveying the waves. He observed the animal for a while before deciding it needed help. “It was really high tide, probably an 8-foot swell, and no beach,” he told KSBW8.
At first the pup resisted and bit Nold. But soon, “it latched its flippers onto my leg, it was its last bit of energy,” he said. Nold then ferried the animal on the nose of his longboard back to shore. He even cuddled the pup while they waited for a volunteer from a rehabilitation organization to arrive, comforting and keeping it warm. Nold nicknamed his new pal “Little C.” (His own nickname is “Big C,” of course.)
Marine Mammal Center rep Laura Sherr told KSBW8 the sea lion was malnourished and in need of rescue. However, humans should be wary of taking matters into their own hands as it’s tough to tell if a baby animal has been abandoned or if its mother is just out gathering food. Sherr tells PEOPLE that the center responds to numerous cases of newborn pups that are negatively impacted by human interaction, often by well-meaning members of the public. There are many ways to share the beaches with these animals while also ensuring that mother and pup pairs aren’t separated during this critical time.
“We’re really glad this animal has been rescued and given a second chance at life … People have good intentions and the animal may be suffering. The instinct to help is really, really difficult not to follow. That’s natural and wonderful, but if you want to help, channel that by calling us,” Sherr said.
If an animal appears ill or injured, or you don’t see the mom nearby, Marine Mammal Center asks that you don’t try to intervene. Call the Center’s 24-hour rescue hotline at 415-289-SEAL (7325). The Center will monitor the animal for 24 hours or more, depending on the situation and, if necessary, trained volunteers and staff will rescue it safely.
“Interacting with marine mammals in any way is illegal and could actually result in a healthy pup being separated from its mother and needing rescue,” Sherr tells PEOPLE. “Marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, so we remind the public to keep a safe distance from animals on the beach, and never approach, touch or interact with a marine mammal.”
To safely share the beach with wild marine animals, it’s important to enjoy from a distance. Although they are photogenic, both elephant seal and harbor seal pups nurse for approximately one month with their mothers, so this period is key to their ability to get the critical nutrition and immunity to survive on their own in the wild.
“Little C” is currently thriving, and the Marine Mammal Center hopes it will make a full recovery.