A Santa Barbara woman is recovering from what she believes was a seal or sea lion bite to her leg as she was swimming near Leadbetter Beach on Wednesday morning.
Maryejo Del Meijer was attacked while ocean swimming at about 7:30 a.m., and suffered a puncture wound to her leg.
She was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for treatment.
Noozhawk caught up with Del Meijer after she had been released from the hospital and was picking up antibiotics from the pharmacy to prevent any infection from the bite.
A body worker and healer, Del Meijer said she loves to start her day with an ocean swim because “it makes me feel like a million bucks.”
She’s been swimming for eight years, and has had sea lions swim nearby and under her as she travels through the water. But nothing like what happened Wednesday.
Del Meijer swims three to four mornings a week with the ocean swimming group dubbed the Ocean Ducks. The group usually enters the water at 7 a.m. from the shore near the Leadbetter Beach restrooms, to the east of Shoreline Beach Café.
She started Wednesday’s swim with about six friends, and then said the group began to pair off.
The group swims to the last buoy at the west end of Leadbetter before turning around, but some of the swimmers go beyond to the point just below Shoreline Park, an area popular with surfers since the waves break there.
Del Meijer’s swimming partner needed to turn back to head to work, but she continued out to the point.
She had seen the head of a seal or sea lion popping out of the water during her swim, but it had seemed like it was quite a distance from the group.
“They’re usually like puppy dogs and they keep their distance,” she said, adding that the swimmers also try to be respectful of wildlife.
“All of the sudden, I felt a nip on my shin and then this body of a seal or lion hit me fairly hard,” she recalled.
Just after that, she felt a bite on her right leg, just above her knee.
Del Meijer said her first thought was of the video of professional surfer Mick Fanning that has been making the rounds on the Internet this week. Fanning aggressively fought back against a shark that attacked him during a surfing competition in South Africa.
“I immediately decided to fight back because I felt that this seal or sea lion was aggressive,” she said. “I kicked really hard with my fins and then he backed off.”
When she called for help, a friend swam back toward her, and the pair returned to the beach together.
“It was a fairly big bite,” she said.
Once back on shore, Del Meijer encountered a “lovely homeless man who did a beautiful job of wrapping my leg up with a bandage” from a first-aid kit he had on hand.
She was taken to Cottage Hospital, where she was given a tetanus shot and doctors cleaned out the single puncture wound. The bite was about an inch deep.
“It’s going to be a nice little scar,” she said, adding that she felt the attack may have been a “warning bite.”
Del Meijer seemed in good spirits in spite of the attack. She said encountering wildlife is part of the draw of ocean swimming, and that there always will be risks to the activity.
It won’t keep her from swimming, however.
“Any surfer or anyone who ocean swims knows exactly why I say I would go back,” she said.