Dozens of students gathered to check out the juvenile California sea lion that likely slipped onto school grounds after emerging from a marsh several hundred feet away.
"It was inside the organic garden where the students grow vegetables," said Levi Hooks, campus supervisor at the Larkspur school.
Hooks went to the garden just after 9 a.m. after students and teachers reported the sea lion.
"It was in there in the sun, very relaxed," he said. "We thought it was some sort of prank at first because the garden is behind a 6-foot-high cyclone fence. A lot of people started to gather around and take snapshots. I've been here 15 years and I've never seen a sea lion on campus."
It was one of photography teacher Susanne Maxwell's students who first spotted the sea lion.
"It looked like it was in distress," Maxwell said. "Its tail was a bit cut up, maybe from going under the fence. The students were really good about being quiet around it."
School officials contacted the Marine Mammal Center and rescuers arrived on campus about an hour after the sea lion was discovered. Redwood High School teacher Joe Stewart gave an impromptu lesson on sea lions as he spoke with students during a break.
Lincoln Shaw of the mammal center and Stewart herded the sea lion into a carrier and it was taken to the center in the Marin Headlands. The animal, which students nicknamed Togg, was believed to be about 9 months old.
"It's very small, about 26 or 27 pounds," said Jim Oswald, spokesman for the mammal center, adding the sex of the sea lion had not been determined. "We are trying to keep him stress-free from the rescue. He will get a tube feeding, he was a little weak."
Oswald theorizes the pup may have been malnourished or separated from its mother.
The California sea lion serves as an indicator of the health of the ocean, officials said. California sea lions range along the Pacific Coast from Vancouver B.C. to the southern tip of Baja.
In 2009, a lack of food in the ocean caused a large number of juvenile sea lions to come ashore, unable to return to the water because they were malnourished. The mammal center is seeing high numbers of stranded sea lions again this year. Other sea lions have been affected by marine debris, some entangled in fishing line.
This was not the first time in recent memory a marine mammal found its way onto Marin's shores. In May 2007 a stellar sea lion nicknamed Astro turned up at the Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera and waddled around the bay-side campus during a school walk-a-thon before it was directed back into the water.
In November 2008 two sea lions decided to waddle out of Richardson Bay, with one making it onto Tiburon Boulevard, surprising area residents, commuters and police.
It took Tiburon police, Marin sheriff's deputies and bystanders about 20 minutes to coax the animals about 100 feet back toward the water and into Richardson Bay.
Read more Larkspur stories at the IJ's Larkspur, Corte Madera section.
Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org