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Sea lion pup hitches ride on boat off Newport Beach coast

June 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's always a treat to experience wildlife while out on a sail. James Gilkinson and his niece thought it was something special when a sea lion pup swam past their boat a couple of miles off Newport Beach. But little did they know that what started as a simple "swim-by" would turn into a once-in-a-lifetime visit.

"He just kind of looked tired, so I figured he'd probably get up on the splash deck and rest, and sure enough, he did," said Gilkinson.

But the young pup apparently wasn't satisfied with the back of the boat, so he staked a claim right next to Gilkinson, practically in his lap.

"He sniffed me. After that, he came up to me and just started rubbing his nose up and down my leg and pretty much spent over an hour just resting there," said Gilkinson.

In fact, Gilkinson says the friendly pup stuck around for more than an hour and a half, just hanging out with his new friend. Gilkinson would sneak in an occasional pat on the back and then let the pup sniff his hand, but he was careful not to let his niece approach the animal.

Gilkinson figured the pup was tired and needed a break from swimming. His phone battery quit before long, and sadly, he had to turn the sailboat around back toward the harbor.

"When I got to the mouth of Newport Beach, I stood up so that he saw that it was time to go. He kind of worked his way toward the back, and once he was at the very back of the boat, I said, 'You gotta go now.' He jumped off and kind of belly-flopped in the water and that was it," said Gilkinson. "This was just truly amazing. I was just beside myself the whole time. Every second was surreal."

Gilkinson says he expects to catch some flak for interacting with a sea lion, but he says the whole experience was by the pup's choosing. Neither he nor his niece tried to lure the animal on board.

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