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California sea lion

Hoover the sea lion creates a stir at boat launch

A male California sea lion decided the wooden pier at Don Armeni boat launch was a handy spot to scatch and nap in the sun on Monday afternoon. On a routine cruise through the boat launch area looking for seal pups (a common spot for pups to come ashore), responders were surprised instead to see an estimated 600 lb pinniped. They quicked “sealed” off the pier with tape and barricades, warning that sea lions are mobile on land and can be dangerous if approached.

The sea lion entertained onlookers as he did some pinniped yoga stretches, squirming and scratching his back on the wooden dock. The photo shows the distinct forehead, known as a sagittal crest, of a mature male California sea lion. He returned to Elliott Bay shortly after 5pm. Because sea lions do not have distinct markings (other than scars, tags or brands), we have not yet identified if this is the same male who rested on the opposite ramp in December. If it is, he has packed on some weight which is a good thing! California sea lions regularly haul out on the two buoys in Elliott Bay - occasionally, Steller sea lions can be seen there, too.

Surprise present for the holidays - a sea lion

Seal Sitters’ hotline operators receive numerous calls each year of “sea lions” on the beach because there are many folks out there who are not aware of the physical differences between species of California sea lions and harbor seals. So, operators will always ask, “Does the seal have spots? Are there ear flaps? Is it big and brown?” Most every time, the animal ends up to be a harbor seal with a spotted coat, small flippers and ear holes.

However, late Thursday afternoon the report of a sea lion hauled out on the Don Armeni boat launch dock turned out to indeed be a California sea lion. An adult male with a prominent forehead “bump” (known as a sagittal crest and indicating a sexually mature male animal) was stretched out midway down the dock. Volunteers blocked off access with sandwich boards, cones and tape. Health assessment photos were taken and sent to WDFW’s marine mammal biologist to determine if the animal had health issues or was merely seeking a convenient place to rest - well, not so convenient for those wanting to use the dock, but luckily there was virtually no boat traffic.

The sea lion spent the night on the dock under the watchful eye of volunteers and returned to the water at 8am Friday. The consulting biologist reports the sea lion appears to have swollen lymph glands or a neck abscess.

California sea lions can reach 8 feet in length and weigh up to 850 lbs. They are very mobile on land and can be dangerous if approached or harassed. Always keep your distance. Like harbor seals, they need to rest a good portion of their day. The buoys in Elliott Bay are packed with CA sea lions (and sometimes a huge Steller or two). It could be that this older sea lion with a possible injury needed refuge from the jostling and barking of sea lions on the buoys.

A young, alert harbor seal pup hauled out on the dock opposite the sea lion about 7 Thursday night, and volunteers educated the public about the difference in species. The pup returned to Elliott Bay early the next morning.

At a small cove just north of Salty’s restaurant, yet another seal pup rested from midday til late that night.

At Jack Block Park, we had a bounty of seal pups using protected areas.

Sea lion investigation update

Local and international media have picked up our story of the California sea lion necropsy findings, along with NOAA’s newest release of information regarding additional pinniped shootings in Washington State. WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations’ biologist estimates the 6-10 year old male had been dead approximately 3 weeks at the time the decomposed body was necropsied at Lincoln Park. Seal Sitters established a perimeter of biodegradable tape and tied the sea lion with rope to a secure log high on shore to ensure the animal would be there the following day for the exam. As this is an on-going criminal investigation, Seal Sitters is not at liberty to divulge details of this case, nor those of the other seals/sea lions. For further information, please contact NOAA Office for Law Enforcement @ 206-526-6133.

Sadly, shootings occur annually in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in fall and winter when large numbers of sea lions move into our area in search of food. Wherever there are large concentrations of fish, there are usually large numbers of sea lions, seals and humans competing for the same resources - and that can often lead to potential negative interactions. In early 2010, there were 14 confirmed and 3 probable shootings of California, Steller sea lions, and harbor seals within the Puget Sound area. Four of those animals were found on the shores of West Seattle.

Please check back for continued updates on this on-going investigation. You can help protect marine mammals by being vigilant both from shore and by boat, watching for any harassment or violence and reporting to NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement.

Lincoln Park sea lion necropsy results revealed

Yesterday, a team from WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations Unit led by biologist Dyanna Lambourn performed a necropsy on a mature male California sea lion. The dead animal was discovered on the beach at Lincoln Park on Monday and photos were sent to WDFW. Seal Sitters’ volunteers and Seattle Parks’ staff secured the sea lion so that he would not be swept away by extreme high tides before the necropsy.

The moderate to advanced decomposed animal had been scavenged by birds and other creatures and had a shark bite wound. Muscle and tissue were closely examined for trauma and hemorrhage; evidence of a “penetrating” wound, suspected to be that of a bullet, was found deep in the tissue and tracked back to the entrance wound. Bullets create small entry holes that are often difficult to detect on the exterior. The head and lungs were removed for further examination and radiographs. That afternoon, a bullet was removed from the left lung lobe. Additionally of note, the intestines were twisted and will be examined - causes can include fishing lures and line, plastics, tumors or possible trauma from the wound. Organ tissue samples were taken for histopaths. WDFW intern and new Seal Sitters volunteer, Allison Reeder (left in photo), assists Dyanna with photo documentation.

NOAA Office for Law Enforcement has been notified and evidence and information will be turned over for investigation.

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.

Steller and California sea lions off Lincoln Park

Of late, a number of sea lions, including the endangered steller sea lion (shown here), have been feeding and sleeping in the waters off Lincoln Park. Stellers are much more massive than the California sea lions we are used to seeing on the Elliott Bay buoy and sailing in Puget Sound. The average size of an adult male steller is 9 feet in length and 1500 lbs as compared to an adult male California sea lion (CSL) weighing up to 1000 lbs at 8.2 feet. Stellers have a distinctly lighter colored coat and much larger head than the CSLs.

Due to more recent sightings of stellers and elephant seals, we will be adding pages devoted to those pinnipeds on our website. Please check back for updates.

Rafting sea lions spark calls of concern

Seal Sitters received calls late this morning from concerned citizens regarding a marine mammal “entangled” approximately 100 yards offshore at Lincoln Park. Our responder followed up on the report, but as she suspected, it was three California sea lions snoozing in the water. Often sea lions sleep in small or large groups - a behavior called rafting - with only a flipper or tail visible to help them regulate their body temperature. Periodically, a nose will pop out of the water briefly for a breath and then disappear. It is an unnerving sight to those who are not familiar with the behavior.

Sea lion acrobatics to start the new year

The sea lions that hang out on the Elliott Bay buoys enjoyed the sunshine today and entertained walkers with their high-flying acrobatics. These athletic maneuvers, called porpoising, are used to elude predators such as orcas and sharks, but also seemed to just be plain fun on this gorgeous day. Sea lions hone their skills at these movements through play. The buoy was packed with male sea lions, barking loudly as they jostled for a resting place.

Female California sea lion "hangs out" in Nisqually

Many thanks to Dyanna Lambourn, Marine Mammal Research Biologist for WDFW, for sharing this hilarious photo of a female California sea lion (photo at right). Typically, we have no female CA sea lions in Puget Sound as they do not migrate. However, for the past four years or so this female has called South Puget Sound her home. Dyanna writes, “I think all of you have heard me talk about an adult female CA sea lion that has made the green Nisqually buoy her residence over at least the last 4 summers. Well, over the winter the buoy was replaced by a channel marker. I resighted her up at the Toliva Schoal Red buoy earlier in June with an adult male CA and a sub-adult Steller, but had not seen her since. Well, it appears she prefers to hang out at Nisqually.”

No worries about the sea lion, who is fine - she had just climbed onto the channel marker at high tide and then rested as the tide rolled out and then back in. 
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