Page One

Sea Lion Attacks Three, Eludes Capture at Berkeley Marina

Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday May 12, 2006

On Wednesday afternoon a sea lion at the Berkeley Marina did more than just catch a ball on its nose and clap.  

After lunging at a crew member’s leg on a the New El Dorado III boat docked on the Marina pier, it grabbed at a kid’s backpack on the pier, a nd later that afternoon went on to bite a sizable chunk out of the calf of one of the crew members on the California Dawn boat. 

“I was standing there on the dock, watching the men clean the fish they had just brought in when the sea lion just jumped up f rom the water and caught me on the outside of my left calf,” said Tawny Huston, the crew member who was bitten. “It took me completely by surprise,” 

Huston was taken to the Kaiser emergency center in Vallejo after the incident occurred and was given anti biotics to sustain the injury. The bite left a 2 1/2 inch gash; the doctors were unable to stitch a portion of the flesh that was missing from the calf, Huston said. 

Standing on the deck of the California Dawn yesterday afternoon while rescue workers fr om the Marine Mammal Center tried to capture the 600-pound male sea lion, Huston said she only hoped that the seal lion would be captured safely and relocated to a place where it could live peacefully. 

“We will do our best to use orthodox methods to trap it,” said Shelbi Stoudt, the Marine Mammal Center officer who was co-ordinating the rescue operations yesterday afternoon. “But we also have to keep in mind the size of the animal and his behavior and act accordingly. We want to make it extremely clear t o the public that we are dealing with an aggressive animal here.” 

Also present at the Marina for the rescue mission was Norm Simmons, special agent with the NOAA office of enforcement of the Marine Manual Protection Act. 

“The sea lions are usually fed fish by the fishermen who dock their boats here after coming in from a fishing trip every day,” he said. “According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act it is illegal to tease, harrass, feed, or even come close to a marine mammal. But the fishermen violate this law all the time. As a result the sea lions have got used to getting a regular supply of food everyday. Somehow this particular sea lion turned aggressive and attacked.” 

Simmons added that after being trapped, the sea lion would be taken to the Mari ne Mammal Center which specializes in sick, injured or aggressive marine animals and it would be located to a less populated environment after that.  

Rescue operations went on for more than three hours Thursday afternoon. At one point the rescue team coaxed the large mammal with a chunk of salmon out of the water and onto the pier, where hiding behind protective shields, they tried to get it into a cage, but the sea lion jumped back into the water. Around 6 p.m., rescue workers decided to call it a day.  

Ann Hardinger, harbor master at the Berkeley Marina told the Planet that this was the first time something like this had happened at the Berkeley Marina. 

“We have always had sea lions hanging around here and they are some of the friendliest creatures I have ever seen,” she said. “This particular sea lion kept coming back for the last three years and we’ve never had any kind of trouble from it. It had actually grown quite comfortable with its surroundings—given the fact that it was being fed everyday an d that it has never been threatened by anything so far.” 

According to Simmons, although there have been stray cases of sea lions biting or attacking people on beaches in California, the mammals usually don’t eat human flesh. 

As a fishing crew brought in the day’s catch, the sea lion could be seen swimming around the boat for handouts. 

“He gets there before we do,” said one of the crew members smiling. “It’s for the fish you see.””