Alas, it was too early to be served. The restaurant, the Marine Room, does not open for dinner until 5:30 p.m. — unless it is offering one of its special “high-tide breakfasts.”
Bernard Guillas, the executive chef at the restaurant, posted photos of the pup, curled up or looking out the window, on his Facebook page Thursday. “We found this little guy in The Marine Room restaurant this morning,” he wrote. “He was a little bit early for his high tide breakfast reservation.
The pup was eventually rescued and taken to San Diego’s SeaWorld. But it was the latest reported sighting of a stranded sea lion in California, where the mammals are increasingly being found on land in places they were never meant to be, partly because of changing weather conditions driving them ashore.
A sea lion wandered into La Jolla’s Cave Store, a souvenir shop, last month. An employee said she lured it outside with salmon.
“It was very, very gentle,” Jim Allen, the store owner, told a local TV station.
Experts are seeing a higher number of reports of stranded sea lions, particularly in San Diego through Santa Barbara Counties, according to data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Many of the stranded mammals have been emaciated pups.
In the first five months of 2015, there were 3,340 young sea lions found stranded, compared with 862 in the same period in 2014 and 1,262 in 2013, the agency said.
El Niño, the weather condition that causes temperatures in the Pacific Ocean to become unusually warm, is believed to be a reason behind the increased strandings because of its impact on the food supply web, according to the oceanic group. It can also generate algal blooms and infectious disease outbreaks.
The Marine Room, a high-end restaurant belonging to the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club in the wealthy San Diego enclave of La Jolla, has for 75 years offered diners a view of crashing waves from its dining room built straight into the ocean.
About 8 a.m. Thursday, Leslie Tovar, a manager for the Shores Restaurant, another of the club’s restaurants, was on the grounds when she got a call from a custodian at the Marine who was “vacuuming up the floor and happened to come across a baby sea lion that matched the interior very well.”
“He said there was a sea lion in the dining room,” Ms. Tovar said in a telephone interview Friday. “Booth 65. Which happens to be one of the best seats in the house, on the waterfront next to the window.”
Ms. Tovar went to the room and saw the pup napping. It was not clear how it got into the dining room, leaving the china and cutlery undisrupted in table settings, and nestled into the booth. But the staff suspects it went through a back door that the cleaner had propped open to take in equipment at 6 a.m.
Ms. Tovar called SeaWorld, which sent a team with a net and roused it from sleep. The team identified it as female, about 8 months old and weighing about 20 pounds — about half the weight it should be at that age.
“It was also a little bit shocking to see how small the pup was,” said Jody Westberg, one of SeaWorld’s animal coordinators, who went to the rescue.
“A micro-pup. Very small in body length, and very malnourished.”
On Friday morning, the pup was getting rehydration fluids in a critical care unit in “guarded” condition. She was spending days at a pool with other pups, and the plan was to get her back to the water, Ms. Westberg said.
Thursday night, after the pup left the Marine Room, dinner went on as usual in the restaurant after a thorough cleaning, Mr. Guillas, the chef, said in a telephone interview.
At one point, he said, the sea lion pup looked out the window toward the ocean, as if to say, “Can I go back now?”
An earlier version of this article misidentified one of the California counties where experts have noticed a rise in the number of stranded sea lions. It is Santa Barbara, not San Bernardino.