On The Water: Sea Lions On Bridgeway??

by Annie Sutter

From the Marin Scope, July 23-29, 1998

Two weeks ago, a couple of pinnipeds stopped by to take a look at Sausalito... were they scouts sent to look for some new waterfront property? The police officers who found one of them wandering Bridgeway that Monday night said that they don't know what's causing the visits. This one apparently climbed onto the seawall at Yee Tock Chee Park and then strolled along the sidewalk, exploring. I heard that a TV news station reported that the chef at one of our downtown restaurants was closing for the night and found a sea lion at his door. Desire for a new diet? Sick of fish, fish, fish all the time? Perhaps they were checking out prime spots for a potential relocation from the overcrowded conditions at Pier 39.

This isn't the first time they've cruised by to look over Sausalito -- several years ago two large sea lions hauled out on the Sausalito Yacht Club's float. The Club's Port Captain figured that he'd better let them know right off that this would not be a sea lion friendly vacation spot, and got rid of them by loudly clapping his hands and roaring back equally ferociously when they objected.

The idea of their taking over as they have at Pier 39 is... well... Pretty scary. This possibility brings to mind some experiences I had while boating around Monterey one summer. It was the year when the sea lions moved from the overcrowded jetty at the harbor entrance and ventured on land -- chasing tourists on the pedestrian path, strolling onto sidewalks and the local boatyard and becoming quite aggressive. It became a real problem -- biting tourists is not recommended for the economy of a vacation spot. The sea lions also discovered that anchored out boats would make nice sunning platforms. They clambered aboard several, sinking one. We heard that when one boat owner was told he had visitors, he rowed out to evict them and was met with territorial roars, and when the behemoths finally disembarked, whew! the poor owner had to gut the interior, and steam clean and paint the entire vessel.

We heard a story about a more sophisticated sea lion at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Bar. Seeking a respite from a two hour tour of the aquarium, we pulled up a couple of stools at the lovely little cafe at the rear of the building and got talking to the affable barkeep. It seems the members of the staff relax there too, after work, and talk about the latest programs, and tell tall tales of sea monster in the Monterey Bay canyon -- which, incidentally, will be the focus of their next exhibit. This stop-over was every bit as good as watching "Behind the Scenes at the Aquarium" on TV. The bartender told us about a sea lion -- I can't remember his name, but it was Barney or something like that -- who was being trained to monitor whales' migration patterns, tracking the pods while wearing monitoring devices, transmitters. Well, they had Barney all rigged up with monitoring devices, and they're out in a big rubber raft and they send him out after a passing pod of gray whales. Apparently Barney took one long look at the enormous creatures and split -- I'm outta here! -- taking the sophisticated and expensive equipment with him. It took a couple of days to track him down, and when they finally caught up with him down off Carmel, he shot out of the water and plopped into the raft, doubtless saying, "at last I'm safe!"

Back to Sausalito, and the middle of that Monday night, the officers had trouble re-routing the young sea lion from its voyage down Bridgeway and the Marine Mammal Center picked it up and released it on a beach nearby. They do issue a caution -- if you find a sea lion, apparently stranded or just out for a stroll, do not touch it or feed it. They can bite and give you a nasty infection. The number to call if you find a stranded sea lion is 289-SEAL.