Crews with the Marine Mammal Center are still hoping to find three California sea lions that were spotted over the weekend with entanglements around their necks, a center spokesman said today.

The sea lions all appeared to have become entangled in what looks like a fishing line around their upper bodies, center spokesman Jim Oswald said.

The first was spotted late Friday night at Pier 39, but because it was too dark and dangerous to attempt a night rescue, crews decided to return early Saturday to try to pick up the animal, Oswald said.

However, when crews came back in the morning, the sea lion dove into the water and was not seen again, despite the efforts of a group from the center that patrolled the nearby waters for several hours Saturday, Oswald said.

At about 4 p.m. Saturday, another sea lion was spotted, this time at the Hyde Street Pier. A crew from the center went out for another rescue attempt, but the animal eluded them, according to Oswald. The crew stopped its rescue efforts again when it got dark Saturday night. The sea lion reappeared Sunday at the same pier, but again evaded rescuers.

A third sea lion was spotted later Sunday on a buoy off the coast of Belvedere, Oswald said. Crews responded, but were again unable to rescue the animal, he said.

Oswald said that, based in part on video of two of the sea lions, it appears three separate sea lions have become entangled.

Crews are not actively searching for the sea lions today, since the center generally relies on calls from people who spot the animals before sending out a rescue crew.

There have been no sightings since Sunday, Oswald said this morning.

“Sometimes that happens, but we certainly have folks at the ready, so if any animal is stranded, we’re poised to go out and rescue it,” he said.

Anyone who spots a sea lion in distress is encouraged to call (415) 289-SEAL.

The number of sea lions in the Bay has been dwindling in recent months, Oswald said.

The Marine Mammal Center, which is responsible for counting the sea lions at Pier 39, tallied more than 1,700 of the animals in mid-October, Oswald said.

There were still more than 900 sea lions in the area as of Nov. 21, but during a seven-day period, that number dropped to about 20, he said.

Officials are looking into reasons why the animals have left but “we don’t really know,” Oswald said.

“The best guess is they’re looking for food sources,” he said. “These are migratory animals so it’s not abnormal for them to leave for periods of time.”

The California sea lions can be found as far south as Mexico and as far north as British Columbia, Oswald said.

The center has received reports that some sea lions have been spotted farther south, near Moss Landing and in the Monterey Bay, as well as up in Oregon, Oswald said.

However, “there’s no way of saying for sure that the sea lions…all came from Pier 39,” he said.

Some of the sea lions have returned in recent days, and Oswald said he hopes some more will come back by Jan. 15. That is when a celebration of the sea lions is scheduled at Pier 39 in honor of the 20th anniversary of the animals’ arrival in the area.

“Hopefully they’ll be back in time for their own event,” he said.

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