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Sea lion behavior rattles public

     
When the hotline received a call Monday morning about a sea lion in trouble in West Seattle, we expected to find a sea lion doing what sea lions often do - float and sleep in the water with a flipper in the air - a behavior known as sailing, a means of regulating their body temperature. Instead, our responder observed a seal lion who was drifitng very close along the shore, back above the water and raising his head out of the water to breathe through the mouth every couple of minutes. The animal drifted close to shore for approximately two hours. There was no visible sign of entanglement. Things got even stranger when another male sea lion appeared barking, seemingly distressed and would not leave the other’s side for quite some time. The drifting sea lion was heard barking underwater. The loud vocalizations attracted quite a concerned crowd and the hotline received numerous calls. Our volunteers were quite baffled and consulted by phone with a pinniped expert as we observed the interactions of the two animals. If the huge sea lion was having health concerns nothing could really be done until he stranded on shore. Eventually, both sea lions swam off and it was visually confirmed that there was nothing entangled around the rear flippers. Video was send to WDFW’s marine mammal biologist for review and neither she nor a colleague could determine the significance of the bizarre encounter. The short clip added here has some of the audio removed due to bystanders’ recorded conversations.

The same morning, Sno-King’s responder also investigated a report of an “entangled” sea lion at the ferry terminal on the Seattle waterfront. There was no evidence of entanglement and the sea lion seemed to be resting and drifting close to shore as well.

Fall and winter, the sea lion population increases in Puget Sound and Elliott Bay as males return to our waters looking for food. Females as a rule do not migrate north, although there is one lone female who has resided in the Nisqually region since 2008, fondly nicknamed Nisqually Princess. Biologists are not sure why she has chosen South Puget Sound as her home.
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