A very popular tourist attraction at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is the activity of wild California sea lions at Pier 39.
For many years the sea lions had been coming to the San Francisco Bay to eat herring, and other fish. At breeding time, they would swim south, primarily to the Channel Islands.
The males especially migrate more, the females congregate near the breeding grounds, in southern California.
When not foraging, these pinnipeds usually haul their 700+ pound bodies onto shore (called “haul out”) to escape predators, rest, socialize, and/or regulate their temperature.
Then one year, January of 1990, everything changed. The sea lions decided that instead of hauling out onto the shore, the Pier 39 boat dock would do just fine. (Some folks speculated it had something to do with the Loma Prieta earthquake a few months earlier, but no one really knows.)
As the days turned into weeks, heated discussion ensued about what to do with the sea lions. Boaters, who no doubt paid a hefty fee to dock here, didn’t like the large animals interloping on their docking space.
The nearby Marine Mammal Center was consulted, and it was eventually decided that the sea lions could have the dock, humans would relocate their boats.
A few times the sea lions disappeared for a few months–experts had varying opinions–but they always returned. And they have been here ever since.
The population numbers vary. The maximum number counted, in November of 2009: 1,701. It is mostly males, but females are here too.
For more info on Zalophus californianus, click here.
Click here for Pier 39 sea lion info and the Sea Lion Webcam.
The sea lions are wild, they come and go as they please, they are not fed. In fact, feeding sea lions (and any other marine mammal) is illegal in the U.S., info here.
When I’m down at the docks, I watch the humans as much as I watch the sea lions. Spectators are so excited and animated, filming movies, taking photos, doing selfies.
And what’s not to love? The sea lions bellow and bark, “walk” on all fours, wobble and roll. When they get a little hungry, they plop into the water and swim off. Later dude.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander