SAN DIEGO — The sea lion could not be stopped on the freeway. He searched for restaurants near the sea, slid down a busy urban highway and into an urban stream.
In the end, SeaWorld San Diego experts said, a progressive disease had caused enough damage that the park opted to euthanize him to avoid suffering.
«It is with a heavy heart that we share ‘Freeway,’ the rescued sea lion, who passed away yesterday, surrounded by the love of his dedicated care and rescue teams,» the park said Friday in Facebook.
SeaWorld did not specify the disease or its impacts. He said Freeway contracted the disease before making 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 in motion before it brought traffic to a halt last year.
In late 2021, he was rescued or seen near the San Diego International Airport, Point Loma Naval Base, on the Mission Beach boardwalk and near a deli adjacent to nearby Mission Bay, SeaWorld said.
The Freeway earned its name on January 7, 2022, when it ended 4 miles offshore on eastbound State Route 94, a central artery of 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 evaluation and rehabilitation before being returned to sea in February 2022.
In May, however, Freeway was found wandering again, this time in a creek about 1 mile from the ocean. SeaWorld experts removed it from Chollas Creek, a concrete-lined stormwater channel, and retained it.
California sea lions are west coast natives protected by the Federal Law for the Protection of Marine Mammals. His the population tripled between 1975 and 2014, according to a 2018 study, prompting San Diego officials to consider closing off access to coastal beaches and parks to balance their needs with those of humans.
On Friday, SeaWorld San Diego said the enthusiasm for Freeway road trips won’t be forgotten anytime soon. «His adventurous spirit won the hearts of all San Diegans and he will be remembered for that and much more,» he said.