We were fishing just off of Prisoner’s Harbor on the north shore of Santa Cruz Island on a warm and calm day when the fish were biting very well. It was one of those rare days when calico bass were chasing bait balls of anchovies on the surface a hundred yards from the nearest kelp and 80 feet above the bottom. It was a wild feeding situation, and we were releasing the fish we caught.
It was a rare day OK, but a sea lion was about to make it even more rare.
A loud splash next to the boat caught our attention, then another and another. A moment later we spotted the source — a young California sea lion, still a juvenile. In all fairness, we’ll call him a teenager. That critter was splashing and showing off all around our boat. Unfortunately, it pretty much shut down the bass bite. At least the show was fun.
After a long moment underwater, that critter jumped right up onto the stern of our boat and started barking at us. It began to make a move for the cut bait I had on a board, so I quickly moved it away from the critter.
Some of my passengers wanted to move close and pet the sea lion, but I warned them against it, explaining about getting bit and all the bacteria in that critter’s mouth. Then they wanted to feed it our bait, and I had to give them a talk about the dangers of making the critter dependent on people and thereby creating dangerous moments for both the critter and people — especially as the animal grew into adulthood. So we just enjoyed watching the pinniped until he slid back into the sea to go find his own dinner. It was then we spotted the tag it was wearing that indicated that it had been cared for at some point by professionals.
About a week later, while fishing in the same area, a park ranger hailed us, checked our licenses and chatted with us. I told him about the sea lion, and the ranger said, “Oh, that’s Mickey. He’s a royal pain and I hope he didn’t bother you too much. You didn’t feed the lil beggar did you?” The ranger was relieved to hear that we had refrained from deepening Mickey’s dependency on people.
We even saw Mickey later that day, but he didn’t jump on our boat. Maybe he already knew we weren’t easy marks.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.