Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 8:10 pm | Fair 59º


David Bacon

Captain’s Log: Little Sea Lion Visits Human Kids on More Mesa Beach

Sea lions compete for territory on the green buoy outside Santa Barbara Harbor. Click to view larger
Sea lions compete for territory on the green buoy outside Santa Barbara Harbor. (Davd Bacon photo)

My 12-year old granddaughter said, “Grandad, my friend and I were kneeling in the water about 2 feet deep at More Mesa Beach, just talking, and this little sea lion swam by us a couple of times just out past where we were and then it came right up to us, just a couple of feet away and looked at us. It seemed like it was just hanging out with us and then it swam away.”

A flood of mixed emotions swept over me, and it took a bit to decide how to discuss it with her. On the one hand, it feels great to have kids of mixed species visiting and learning about and experiencing each other.

Hanging out around wild critters so much of my own youth gave me a sense of what the perspective of wild critters is and always must be if they are to survive and retain their wildness and independence.

These girls did the right thing. They held their ground, made no threatening moves and did not try to pet the wild sea lion. They were close enough that they would have seen an ID tag or other human-made markings had it been a rehabilitated animal.

This one was wild and potentially fierce and territorial, but it was also a curious pup. And because the kids of neither species made any overt advances that could have been misread by the other, the interaction went well.

Sea lions are cute and sometimes playful, and we enjoy having them around, though they are an unmanaged species, which skews the natural food chain and throws a monkey wrench into our ecosystem-based management that strives to manage the whole of the environment and food chain.

In a few cases, such as sea lions and sea otters, we are guilty of managing (in this case I mean protecting) based on the cute factor. We are not doing the food chain any favors when we let our hearts get the way of our logic.

I have seen bite marks and heard tales of threatening behavior from sea lions, and I’m aware of how bacteria-laden their mouths can be and how harmful bacteria can be transmitted by bites, so I am always cautious.

I’ve had sea lions jump up on the back of my charter boat and I’ve moved quickly when a passenger went to move towards it, reaching a hand out to pet the precious critter. That’s when I need to do some educating of the people and some shooing away of the animal.

My granddaughter and her friend had a happy experience, and the sea lion pup seemed to have had a good time with the interaction.

But let’s all remember that we are the only species around that doesn’t have to fiercely battle daily, life-or-death, to survive.

And let’s remember to leave wild things wild and to not put trust in the kindness of a predator who doesn’t necessarily see an outstretched hand as a friendly sign.

— 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. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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