Tuesday, March 29, 2011

probably a worthwhile story to read.

storyboards / designs / doodles - maybe just for fun, or maybe they'll turn into something.

I was going to write something about all the huge explosions of life that mean Springtime on the West Coast - but I have to relate another sea lion story instead.

Last time I swam was 4-5 days ago, and I had a pretty close-up encounter with a sealion. It was a bit scary, so today I was more careful and swam later, after I thought the sealions would have passed. I also swam across a cove, inshore and a bit shallower than where I've seen the sealions before.

I was 2/3rds of my way back to my side of the cove - about 100 m from the rocky point where I enter and leave the ocean on this particular swimming route. The sun had just set, the sky was grey, the water pocked with rain spatters, and the smooth surface was just starting to ruffle from a breeze that was shifting from the south to the southeast.

I'm always looking out for sealife, and up until this point there was nothing but a few ducks and gulls in the far distance.

Then the fucking sealions surfaced - about 30 meters away. Two of them came up and looked at me, and went back down again.

I started talking, knowing they could hear my voice through the water. "Fuck off, sealions. Seriously, don't fuck with me. I'm a person. Stay away." Trying to sound as foreign as possible and hoping the sounds didn't make them horny or anything. I wasn't as scared as last time, and thought, "Shit, maybe I can get used to these guys like I'm used to seals." I hoped that they got scared and took off, which is what I think happened last time.

Then they surfaced again, a little closer. One came pretty far out of the water to take a good look at me. A huge mane of gold-and-brown fur, and an absolutely massive girth, even where his shoulders were. This was a fucking huge animal.

Something like this:

Looking online at photos, he had the proportions of a bull. His shoulders were not slim like the females.

The animal's size, and the colour of the hair, made me feel like I was looking at a marine version of the Grizzly.

If my adrenaline was pumping when I first saw them, it was going doubletime now.

The two sealions were swimming to the same point I was going to. They swam ahead of me, but kept surfacing and watching me. I kept talking, partly to seem foreign to them, and partly to calm myself. Once they reached the tip of the point, they waited around and watched me. I swam more inland of them, but i still had to close distance with them to get to shore.

Once I was about 20m from the shore, I lost sight of the sealions around the rocky edge of the point. Right at that moment, one of them started barking. AAAOOOU AAAOUU AOOOU AAAOU! I lost it and swam like a hot bastard to the rocks, pulled myself onshore and ran inland a bit. I imagined one beaching behind me and snatching me like I've seen Orcas do with seals.

The sealions swam away, and I let out a hoot and paced around to work off the adrenaline, grinning like a demon. Now that's livin'!

Besides the size of that big ol' bastard, and the fact that I was completely defenseless, blind to their movements, and out of my element, a few things bother me about this encounter:
(1) There were two sealions, and I'm afraid they're a mating pair.
(2) I don't know how territorial sea lions are. If that was a bull, I don't know if he's going to get pissed at my proximity.
(3) The barking was something I've never seen them do. This was definitely a direct interaction with me. My presence was significantly affecting their behavior. They were scared or defensive or something, but they weren't simply running away.

This has gone a little further than I'm comfortable with, so I think it's time to do some reading before I jump in tomorrow. Things to learn:

(a) what does it mean when a sea lion barks?
(b) when is their mating season? how territorial are they?
(c) are there any incidents of sea lions attacking people?

Nutty times in the briny deeps. I wouldn't trade it for the world. But I don't really want to die out there either.


  1. From an overdramatic scare story on Fox news:
    "In the most frightening of the recent episodes, a rogue sea lion bit 14 swimmers this month and chased 10 more out of the water at San Francisco's Aquatic Park, a sheltered lagoon near the bay. At least one victim suffered puncture wounds. Some scientists speculate that the animals' aggressive behavior is being caused by eating fish contaminated by toxic algae, or by a shortage of food off the coast. But wildlife experts say even healthy sea lions are best left alone.
    In Southern California in June, a sea lion charged several people on Manhattan Beach and bit a man before waddling into the water and swimming away. In Berkeley, a woman was hospitalized last spring after a sea lion took a chunk out of her leg. Last year, a group of sea lions took over a Newport Beach marina and caused a vintage 50-foot yacht to capsize when they boarded it. And a lifeguard in Santa Barbara was bitten three times while swimming off El Capitan State Beach. In Alaska, a huge sea lion jumped onto a fisherman's boat in 2004, knocked him overboard and pulled him underwater; he escaped without serious injury. Sea lions, which can reach 1,000 pounds, typically bite only if they feel threatened or cornered. And they are more likely to flee than fight if they can escape."

  2. Thanks for finding that. Yikes. That's a whole lot different than what I've read about Orcas. I'm not sure what to do now.