Joy is fleeting.

Flowers wilt.

Memories fade.

Exuberant sea lions are driven from public view by a wealthy real estate developer, as he attempts to sell a patch of saltwater for $700,000.

Remember the sea lions that hung out in Ballard, on a floating pier in Shilshole Bay? They were there for months last winter and spring; 60 sea lions, by some estimates. Barking, bleating, braying, basking.

They are gone now, and that is no one’s fault but Mother Nature’s.

California sea lions venture to southern waters on the Pacific Coast in anticipation of summer mating season. But they will return to Puget Sound in the winter. When they do, they will not have the same welcoming platform, in public view, to hang out on.

That is the work of John Goodman, a local real estate executive who owns the private marina near where the sea lions congregated. Goodman, who did not respond to requests for comment, also has the support of state regulatory agencies, who want to discourage sea lions from gathering in areas where migrating salmon pass through.

The floating pier that served as a home base for the pinnipeds serves as a breakwater for Goodman’s Golden Tides Marina, a small collection of docks with room for a handful of boats. But that pier is no longer the flat, welcoming surface it once was.

Advertising

The comfortable platform was replaced last week by a big, corrugated plastic pipe, running the length of the pier. The pipe would seem to make it impossible, or at least very uncomfortable, for a sea lion, much less dozens, to use the pier for respite.

It’s not easy to lounge on a curved, convex piece of hard, ribbed plastic.

Wherever the sea lions settle upon their return, it likely will not be in easy viewing distance from a big public dock. It’s a rare thing — the chance to safely view a big, wild predator — charismatic megafauna — in its natural habitat, right in the heart of a big city.

Nothing gold can stay, Robert Frost wrote.

The floating pier, or, more accurately, the land beneath the water beneath the pier, is actually owned by the state Department of Natural Resources. The DNR leases the property to Golden Tides for about $5,400 a year.

Sarah Ford, a DNR spokesperson, said they support the alterations, because migrating salmon pass through the area.

“DNR and other regulatory agencies are discouraging structures that provide an artificial haul-out for predators of salmon populations along this migratory corridor,” Ford wrote. “The lessee made these changes, which is allowed and we support because they enhance salmon protection along the Ballard Locks.”

Advertising

Goodman, a major local developer who has had ownership in more than 40,000 apartments, was among the biggest spenders in last year’s city elections, contributing, along with a business partner, nearly $200,000 to PACs supporting pro-business candidates.

He has repeatedly clashed over the years with tenant organizations, who have accused him of buying apartment complexes and immediately hiking rents. The marina has been the site of tenant protests in the past, and candidates for mayor, city attorney and City Council protested outside Goodman’s real estate offices last year.

Goodman is well within his rights to put up hostile architecture to try and fend off sea lions. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, which helped California sea lion populations rebound from as low as 10,000 a half century ago to an estimated 300,000 today, prohibits the harassing or killing of sea lions.

But property owners can try to keep them away, so long as they don’t injure them. Barriers, fencing, noisemakers, sprinklers, pyrotechnics, cattle prods, pepper spray — all are generally allowed as deterrence measures, under federal law.

Ben Anderson, a spokesperson for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the big piece of piping is certainly allowed and it would be interesting to see if it works as a deterrent.

“Sea lions are large animals, and can be destructive to property when they gather in sufficient numbers, so WDFW supports using appropriate deterrence measures when necessary,” Anderson said. “They’re certainly fun to watch, but they can also be messy, noisy, and have a strong odor, so there are a variety of reasons why a property owner (or their neighbors) may want to keep them at a distance.”

Advertising

Preventive measures, Anderson said, are always preferable to anything that could damage property or jeopardize safety.

WDFW’s Atlas of Seal and Sea Lion Haulout Sites in Washington, published in 2000, notes they’ve been coming to this area for years.

In southern Puget Sound, “The main California sea lion haulout and rafting
area is located near the Shilshole Bay Marina,” the atlas writes.

They have long been fond of the southern tip of the Shilshole Bay Marina breakwater.

An employee at Surf Ballard, the surf shop down the street, said the sea lions were a prime attraction for paddle boarders: “Everyone wants to go see the sea lions.”

Doug Zellers, general manager and co-owner of Ray’s Boathouse, the venerable fine dining restaurant next to the sea lions, had likened them to predinner entertainment. Guests, the moment they stepped out of their car, couldn’t help but hear the marine mammals’ raucous shouts.

Sponsored

And the sea lions put on a show. They’d frequently attract a small crowd, watching the spectacle from the big public dock overlooking the pier.

Sea lions would vault out of the water, propelling themselves onto the floating pier. They’d joust for room, pushing and barking.

Some would lie prone, eyes closed, insouciant. Others would arch their backs, point their nose to the sky, as if a yoga instructor had told them to hold the pose. They yelled their concerns, their feelings, at each other, at the neighborhood, at the world.

The floating pier is an unstable platform. It would tilt and threaten to spin like a floating log, dumping the pinnipeds back in the water. They’d throw their girth to one side, trying to get back to equilibrium. They’d go too far, their collective bulk spinning the pier in the other direction, threatening to eject them all off the other side.

It was like the zoo, but free. And without any nagging ethical concerns about caged animals.

“One of the best things we have here is the views and the wildlife,” Zellers said. “I thought they were funny, it was like a comedy show, It was pretty cool.”

Advertising

But he’d also talked to people in the neighborhood who had small boats sunk by the sea lions’ collective heft. Two people, he said, had seen their docks sink beneath the blubber.

“Am I disappointed they put that up?” he said of the new pipe. “Not really. I understand trying to protect your property.”

Speaking of property, the Golden Tides Marina currently has a slip for sale. It is a strip of saltwater, with access to a dock and a couple parking spaces. It includes connections to electricity and fresh water and is big enough for a 100-foot yacht. It could be yours for $699,000.

The signs on the pier, citing city and state law, say no trespassing and warn that violators will be prosecuted. The sea lions thumbed their nose at the powers that be. The powers that be have struck back.