California sea lions attack humans

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

California sea lions attack humans:

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. Researchers have described the most recent attacks, in which some swimmers were chased through open water, as abnormal behavior.

Still, with a population numbering about 200,000 and growing, these playful, social creatures are increasingly likely to cross paths with humans.

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