Sea lion hazed away after blocking Auke Bay dock
After complaints from Southeast Alaska boaters in Auke Bay – and some gentle encouragement to leave by federal officials – a California sea lion is no longer sitting on the dock of the bay.
According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration statement, the sea lion first hauled out on the dock at about 10:30 a.m. Sunday. On Monday morning, NOAA staff and Auke Bay’s harbormaster were able to crowd the animal back into the water using “a large piece of plywood.”
Although the 800-pound male originally showed “lethargic behavior” during its time on the dock, it later committed more aggressive acts.
“Despite signs posted by NOAA law enforcement for people to stay away from the animal, several people approached it, some taking photos,” NOAA officials wrote. “Another person came by in a boat and attempted to feed the sea lion. At one point, the sea lion charged a person.”
Sadie Wright, with NOAA Fisheries’ Protected Resources Division, said the animal appeared to be healthy. It was the first sea lion she recalled hauling out at Auke Bay, despite previous sea lion sightings at nearby Point Bridget as well as in Ketchikan and Sitka.
Wright said the sea lion wasn’t struck by the plywood, which was fitted to a roller frame before officials approached the animal.
“It was basically intimidated,” Wright said. “We rolled it toward the sea lion and it really got it back in the water.”
NOAA officials monitored the sea lion as it moved past Auke Bay’s outermost breakwater, leading Wright to hope that the California sea lion’s haulout – a rare sight in Southeast Alaska, where Steller sea lion haulouts are relatively common – is an isolated incident.
“They become human-habituated very quickly and take over sections of docks, so we wouldn’t want that to happen here in Juneau,” Wright said. “An aggressive animal is not acceptable in a human harbor like that.”
People should try to stay 100 yards away from marine mammals according to NOAA, which warns that overexposure to humans can lead animals to become the maritime equivalent of garbage bears – seeking food from people and putting both parties in potential danger. Some people have been bitten in previous encounters, such as a Canadian case earlier this year in which a sea lion dragged a young girl into the water from a dock in British Columbia.
"While viewing marine mammals, your actions should not cause a change in the behavior of the animals," Wright said in the statement. "Offering food, discarding fish or fish waste, or any other food item is prohibited. Do not approach or touch the animals, as they can behave unpredictably and may transmit disease. Remember to keep pets and children away from these very quick animals."
NOAA urges people who encounter sea lions on docks not to haze the animals themselves, and instead call the agency’s stranded-mammals hotline at 1-877-925-7773. More guidelines for viewing marine mammals are posted on the NOAA Fisheries website.
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