“You wouldn’t go up to a grizzly bear in the bush and hand him a ham sandwich,” said an official suburban Vancouver’s Steveston Harbour, where the now-famous incident occurred over the weekend.
The terrifying video of a sea lion snatching a little girl off the edge of a dock and yanking her into murky British Columbia seawater last week is buzzing across the internet and social media today — and drawing some critical insights.
Michael Fujiwara, a college student from Vancouver, B.C., captured the video Saturday at the Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond. It shows the large male sea lion suddenly lurching and pulling the girl into the water, with a man jumping in after the child to save her. There reportedly were no injuries.
Robert Kiesman, chair of the Steveston Harbour Authority, lambasted the girl’s family for reckless behavior, telling the CBC News that signs posted at the popular tourist destination warn people not to feed the sea mammals that frequent the area.
“You wouldn’t go up to a grizzly bear in the bush and hand him a ham sandwich, so you shouldn’t be handing a thousand-pound wild mammal in the water slices of bread,” Kiesman said.
“And you certainly shouldn’t be letting your little girl sit on the edge of the dock with her dress hanging down after the sea lion has already snapped at her once. Just totally reckless behavior.”
Danielle Hyson, a senior marine-mammal trainer at the Vancouver Aquarium, explained to The Vancouver Sun that the animal forewarned of his aggressive behavior.
“You saw him kind of initially lunge out of the water and give a little huff. That’s what we would call an aggressive precursor,” she told The Sun. “So he’s letting the people know that he’s starting to get frustrated. And in that situation, the people should have backed off right away.”
Hyson noted that male California sea lions are powerful animals that can weigh more than 200 kilograms — about 440 pounds.
The powerful animals have big eyes and whiskers that seem cute, she noted.
“They look like they’re water dogs, but they absolutely are not,” Hyson said. “They can do a lot of damage.”
Fujiwara, the college student who shot the video, said in a story carried by NBC News the girl and her family were dumbstruck by the attack.
“They were pretty shaken up,” he said. “Her family were just in shock.”
The family had been feeding the sea lion breadcrumbs, which is probably what attracted the animal to the crowd, Fujiwara said.
“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.”
In Washington, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife does not keep records on sea-lion attacks, department spokesman Craig Bartlett said in an email Monday.
Sea lions typically only bite when they feel threatened or cornered, according to various news reports. They sometimes also go after the same fish people do, resulting in close encounters.
“I’ve seen reports of sea lions stealing fish from anglers on the Columbia River, but I can’t recall anyone actually being injured,” Bartlett said.
While he knew of no known attacks of people in Washington, Bartlett pointed to a 2013 news report about sea lions that have attacked and eaten dogs at Westport.
But commercial and sports fishermen occasionally have reported attacks by sea lions and seals.
A sea lion caught in a Russian commercial fishing vessel’s net was videotaped tossing a fisherman across the boat deck.
In January, an Alaska fisherman was attacked by a Steller sea lion “heavier than a grand piano” when it jumped onto his fishing boat, slammed him into the deck and tried to drag him into the water, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
And in 2015, a sea lion bit onto the hand of a sport fisherman as he posed with a yellowfin tuna on his boat off San Diego, pulling the man overboard.
“After 15 seconds, I thought I was going to die,” Dan Carlin, the fisherman, later said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I continued to struggle, but thought this is the way I was going to die. It was unbelievable to me.”
But deadly attacks by seals or seal lions are apparently rare.
The fatal attack of a British scientist snorkeling in Antarctica in 2003 was believed to be the first deadly leopard-seal attack on a human at the time, according to National Geographic.
On Monday, tourists and the curious crowded on to Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf to catch a glimpse of the child-snatching sea lion despite warnings to keep a safe distance.