Sea Lions at Pier 39

Pier 39, California Sea Lions

Pier 39, California Sea Lions

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.)


Pier 39

Pier 39

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.


Pier 39

Pier 39

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.


Pier 39, San Francisco, California

Pier 39, San Francisco, California

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


68 thoughts on “Sea Lions at Pier 39

  1. Enchanted,touched and amazed,dear Jet,by these sweet creatures and the dock story.I have just come back from the suggested link”Sea Lions at PIER 39″ where I saw them hauling out onto the dock,”walking” on all fours while barking and bellowing to communicate with each other.What a spectacle!I was so glad to read that the boaters had to move to another dock and the Sea Lions undisturbedly enjoy the space there.Do they travel up to the Channel Islands to raise their pups?That’s marvellous!Happy Thursday,dear friend 🙂 ~~ *-* ~~

    • Hi Doda! I’m so glad you had a chance to visit the web cam. Isn’t it fascinating to watch? So much barking! “Spectacle” is the perfect word for it. I was glad, like you, that the sea lions got priority over the boaters; that doesn’t happen too often. The breeding occurs south in the Channel Islands mostly; males do not take part in raising the pups. Thanks so much, dear Doda, for your continued interest and thorough reading of my posts. I am so glad you had a glimpse of Pier 39 today and those crazy sea lions. ~~~♥~~~ 😀

  2. Things change all the time, from an inconvenience to a tourist attraction and so forth… I’m glad that they did not decide to shoot them! We have sometimes those crazy ideas, don’t we? Thanks Jet! You are all heart! 🙂

    • I know, isn’t it great, HJ, that they let the sea lions live there in peace? I was reading the Japanese sea lion was extirpated in the 1970s, I’m so glad our sea lions here live on. Thanks for your kind comment and visit today, HJ — always a distinct pleasure. 🙂

    • They are great, I’m so glad you liked the sea lion post today Bill. My god daughter, who was born in 1994 and has always lived with sea lions at Pier 39, made her birthday request, when I asked, to go see the sea lions at Pier 39. 😀 😀

  3. What a wonderful post, Jet. I tried for decades to find a way to get myself relocated to San Francisco. The cost of housing is just too much. Happily I learned that the southwest is fantastic… now if I can just get myself relocated there! LOL. Have a thriving Thursday! Hugs.

    • And yet the sea lions got housing for free! Maybe if you want to relocate you might try to slap your front fins together and bark a lot. lol. I’m delighted to chat with you today, Teagan, thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

    • It’s a curious story, isn’t it, Bertie? It baffled everyone. So happy to share the story with you, especially since you have visited SF. Thanks so much for visiting here too. 🙂

    • It’s a great success story in how to tolerate others, even different species. The sea lions have been such a big hit with the tourists, in exchange for the use of the docks. Thanks so very much, Val — I’m glad you enjoyed the cool dudes. 🙂

  4. That’s a super story – a win for the sea lions and a win for the tourists! The photos are wonderful. We were down there a few years back and I took terrible pictures! We’re planning on visiting SF in March, so maybe I’ll try again…
    Great post!

    • Yes, I’m pretty happy about the win-win too, Adam. And how fun for you and Mrs. PC to be visiting SF. You are welcome to email me (see Contact tab) if you have questions about the beautiful City by the Bay. Good thing you’re not coming next week — Super Bowl here is predicted to be swarming with visitors. As always, many thanks~~

  5. Oddly enough I hardly ever visited Fisherman’s Wharf (unless it was once with a visitor from out of town) and don’t remember seeing any sea lions. Of course that was ages ago and things change. These days, I can visit mobs of them here at Simpson Reef. There they have both sea lions and seals. Then I’ve seen some begging on the wharfs in Newport. Their vocalizations certainly aren’t subtle. They are so clumsy looking, but can move a lot quicker than one would imagine if need be. I don’t think I’d want to get into and argument with one.

    Then again, when Eric was fishing at the mouth of the Rogue River and he caught his salmon, there was a guard in another boat watching to keep the sea lions from attacking and trying to steal his catch. That would be pretty scary especially in a kayak.

    • We are so lucky to have them on our coast. And you’re right, Gunta, they can move a lot quicker than you’d expect, given their size and lack of true appendages. I loved hearing there are “mobs” of them where you are. Thank you so much, I enjoyed your lovely comment tonight. 🙂

  6. I have seen them several times and I confess to being a lunatic tourist going gaga over this gang. We land locked folk lose our minds at the ocean. That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it!

  7. Thanks for this fun post Jet and the link to the original party boys on the boards whooping it up!. I guess they never went away because they feel the love and they don’t have to wash up anyways! Wonderful photos from Athena. Great start to my weekend ❤ xxx Thank you thank you!

    • I am so delighted you took the time to watch the link of the “original party boys” Gill. My smile remains from your comment as I type here, I like those words of yours. Otis Redding wrote “The Dock of the Bay” after spending a few days at the SF Bay, so I think the sea lions too, like to “watch the tide roll away.” My warmest greetings to you, dear Gill. ♥

    • I’m sure you’re familiar with taking photos from a boat, not always steady, but I agree, Athena did a great job. Thanks so much for your comment, Frank — I hope you’re having a great weekend full of awesome images. 🙂

    • You know well how writers have this habit of standing on the outside watching the scenes unfold. I’m really glad you enjoyed watching the sea lions, and the humans, with me, Iris. Thanks so much for your visit. 🙂

  8. Another beautiful post and so interesting. I was in San Francisco just before and then just after the earthquake and we remarked how the sea lions had taken up residence beside the pier. Such a fantastic sight and so exciting. Thanks so much for sharing.

  9. I just learned last week eye difference between seals and sea lions. Since we don’t have them on the Gulf Coast, I was ignorant to their distinction until watching a documentary on them. The things I don’t know about the animal kingdom would fill volumes!! Thanks for your thoughtful posts. I hope to get to ogle sea lions on Pier 39 one day.

    • Yes, the world of sea mammals is so extensive, isn’t it Shannon? I love that there are so many creatures that no matter how much we study, there will always be more to learn. Such a pleasure to share the Pier 39 sea lions with you, Shannon — thank you so much for your visits and comments today. 🙂

  10. Seems funny to see the sea lions on the flat, manmade piers — instead of on rocks. I always think of the Cliff House area and the sea lions there — and, of course, the Camera Obscura and other Playland leftovers. Magical…

    • The coastline off San Francisco is indeed magical. I’m glad you enjoyed the sea lions here and at the Cliff House. Thanks so much for your visits today, dear Nan. 🙂

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