Imagine you’re with your family, enjoying a sunny afternoon at Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf in Richmond, British Columbia. The laughter of children mixes in with the sounds of gulls and other sea birds, making for an idyllic interlude on an early spring weekend.
Suddenly, a California sea lion comes for a visit. The animal is obviously used to people and is probably looking for some stupid human to feed it popcorn or something. People laugh as the sea lion comes very close to a little girl who steps back giggling.
But this tranquil scene is shattered when the sea lion leaps out of the water and grabs the little girl, who was sitting with her back to the animal on the pier. An unknown man courageously jumps in the water and grabs the girl as spectators help them out of the water.
“They were pretty shaken up,” he said. “Her family were just in shock.”
He said a family began feeding the sea lion bread crumbs, which is probably what attracted the animal to the crowd.
“It initially jumped up to the girl to read her, I guess,” he said. “And then it came back up a second time, but this time grabbing the girl by the waist and dragging her down into the water.”
Many on social media were quick to condemn the crowd for egging on a wild animal to come closer.
“As a rule, sea lions don’t attack,” said Andrew Trites, a professor who oversees the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia. “They are fearful and keep their distance from people unless they’ve been habitually conditioned to expect food,” he said.
People in the video were feeding the animal and “taunting” it, which is a huge no-no, he said.
“People don’t understand that this is not a tamed animal you might see at a circus or in a movie, these are wild animals who are hungry,” he said. “And if they are habitually trained to get food, they will come close and want it,” he said.
Trites said that he did not see any “aggression” on the part of the sea lion towards the girl. “All I saw was an animal that was calm, curious and hungry,” he said.
“Even after it all happened, the sea lion stayed in the same spot, still waiting to be fed,” he said.
Every year at our national parks, several people are killed by wild animals due to the stupidity of people who must think they’re watching a nature documentary on TV. Bears, buffaloes, wolves, and other animals at parks like Yellowstone have become habituated to humans and hold little fear for them. But that doesn’t mean they’re tame. And to provoke these animals with aggressive behavior is the height of stupidity.
This could have been a tragedy if not for the bravery of a bystander. But the incident reminds us of the simple common sense displayed on signs all over our national parks.
“Please don’t feed the animals.”