Every so many years, I visit San Francisco’s Fishman’s Wharf and take a boat ride around the Bay. All along the rocks, you’ll see groups of sea lions basking in the glow of what little sunshine there is in the area. They look content enough, with their little whiskers twitching, all innocent like. But don’t let the cute faces fool you.
Now, it would seem that the sea lions are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. Now, whatever they’re mad about is your guess is as good as mine.
On any given day in San Francisco Bay, the sea lions are at the water’s edge, chomping on fish by the handful, not bothering anyone, until recently. Now they’re on the attack, and scientists seem to think it may have something to do with the fish they’ve been snacking on as tourists snap one photo after another. Now officials at the Marine Mammal Center across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, are trying to warn people that the animals are on the warpath. It’s not in their nature to attack humans, per se, but like any wild animal, their nature is to survive.
When I was a child, I remember my mother saying the old standard to me regarding bees: “If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.” What I always wondered then, and now, is “Do the bees know this rule?” So, when I look at the sea lions, looking all peaceful, with not a care in the world, I remember that they may not know that they are in a tourist trap, and as such, are supposed to adhere to certain rules.
At San Francisco’s Aquatic Park, a sheltered lagoon, a sea lion was on the loose making sniper attacks on swimmers. At one point, it bit 14 swimmers just this past month, and chased another 10 out of the water. One of two things happened here: he didn’t get that “don’t bother them” memo or he was doing what sea lions do. Unfortunately, the tourists continued to swim in the area, taking their chances against Mother Nature. In another incident, a group of sea lions swarmed a yacht and capsized the vessel when they started to board – -without the permission of the captain, obviously.
But the attacks are out of the ordinary, even given the laws of nature, according to scientists. Some speculate that the fish that made up the sea lions’ diet has been contaminated by toxic algae. Last year, scientists at The Marine Mammal Center treated more than 200 of the animals for domoic poisoning (the result of the toxic algae). The domoic acid can cause brain damage.
Then there’s the problem of a shortage of food, forcing them to look beyond normal bases, and making them behave out of character. The groups that normally would stay in Southern California have been facing a real food shortage, and so are moving up towards San Francisco Bay where those fish scraps are easy pickings by comparison to having to hunt in open waters.
Still, it may not be a real food shortage that drives it, mind you, as these are wild animals. In an area like Fishman’s Wharf, where scraps abound, sea lions may have become aggressive under the notion that tourists will cut into their food supply. The “why now” will remain a mystery on this one. Humans often behave totally out of character in a mob or crisis situation, so it’s not surprising that wild animals should be just as unpredictable. The conditions only have to exist in the animals’ minds, especially as the population is growing, and is up around the 200,000 mark.
The same thing has happened with polar bears over the years. My son, now 18, has collected polar bear items since he was four years old. I had always planned to take him on a trip via Churchville via train for his high school graduation. It’s a town when there polar bear seem to move about freely, and you can watch them in their natural habitat via the safety of your train compartment. Over the last ten years, locals around Churchville
started reporting that the polar bears had started coming into town into populated areas.
No doubt, as with other forms of wildlife, their food supply had dried up, so they had to move the boundaries out a bit. And they were growing used to having humans gape at them. What was abnormal suddenly was normal. Reality shifted. So they wanted into a populated town.
Again, like the sea lions…and the bees my mother told me about…the polar bears didn’t seem to get the memo about how they were supposed to act for the nice tourists.
The sea lions have attacked people in open waters which is clearly against their nature, say scientists. So, is it something chemical or a change in their habitat that is spilling over into a change in behavior.
So what should we do? In the end, the smart thing to do regarding the sea lions (according to the experts) is to leave them alone. As these creatures get to be about 1,000 pounds, does this seem like an unwise choice?