It was late Friday night when Huntington Beach Police received the distress call: A sea lion was tangled in a fishing line that was threatening to choke it to death.
For hours, Lt. Mitch O'Brien frantically phoned animal control and rescue groups. As the clock passed midnight, O'Brien knew no help was coming.
His frustration turned to concern. Around 12:30 a.m., O'Brien assembled a group of three other Huntington Beach police officers and headed to the surf line. They brought a dog snare and a warm blanket. The officers spotted the injured sea lion in the water. Its neck was deeply cut by a snagged fishing line. The thin, clear line was wrapped several times around the sea lion's neck, choking it. The animal was struggling to breathe, according to the Police Department's Facebook page.
The four officers spent 30 minutes trying to untangle the sea lion, which they affectionately named Sparky. Every time they approached, Sparky would retreat back to the water. But because of its declining health, the sea lion would quickly return to the sand and collapse, the Facebook post said.
"Sparky didn't appear to trust our officers," the post said. "It was evident the officers were going in the water."
Two officers stripped down to their T-shirts and pants. Using a flashlight to temporarily blind Sparky, the officers got the snare on its neck. The two officers tackled the struggling sea lion and wrapped it tightly with the blanket. Sparky soon surrendered and relaxed as the officers were getting pounded by the white water.
They cut the fishing line using a seatbelt cutter and freed Sparky.
"He immediately began breathing with ease," the Facebook post said. "And when the officers released their grip he shuffled back into the surf and happily swam out to sea.
A crowd of onlookers applauded the cold, wet officers, according to the Facebook account.
On Saturday morning, though, volunteers at Pacific Marine Mammal Center rescued the weak sea lion from the beach. Two hours later, the animal died from its injuries, spokeswoman Melissa Sciacca said.
"It is really sad," she said. "We are seeing more of these marine debris injuries."