A wayward California sea lion named Fruitvale and five of his companions were released back into the ocean late this morning just off the Farallon Islands.

Fruitvale, a 1-year-old sea lion, made headlines earlier this summer when Oakland police found him waddling down Interstate Highway 880.

The Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit veterinary hospital in Sausalito, has been treating him for malnourishment ever since.

He is one of hundreds of California sea lions the center is rehabilitating due to a major shortage of the schooling fish, like anchovies and herring, which comprise the animals’ diets.

During the past six weeks, marine mammal center workers have been releasing some of these rehabilitated yearlings back into the ocean. The 45 sightseers who bought tickets for today’s SFBay Whale Watching Cruise to the Farallon Islands were surprised to discover six sea lions in plastic carriers would be coming along as well.

The ship’s captain, Joe Nazar, let the center use his cruise to return sea lions to the Farallones where food is more abundant and human contact is minimal.

Today’s cruise arrived around 11:30 a.m. and Nazar and Trish Mirabella, an educator at the center, gave visitors and unanticipated lesson in marine science.

Nazar must participate because by law the ship’s captain is the only one who can open the gates on the side of the boat.

One by one, he and Mirabella positioned each plastic carrier at the open gate and released the door allowing Fruitvale, Anquet, Hondo, Metheny, Prelude, and Superstar to dive head first into the ocean.

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