While it would be almost impossible to determine if the numbers of sea lions collecting on land and docks in Crescent City Harbor near Anchor Way are record-breaking, it’s hard not to notice how many have been out there this last week.
When they’re not lounging on the docks and rocks, they can be seen swimming together and jumping out of the water.
For more than a week, they have been stacked up onshore near the Chartroom Restaurant, harbor docks and around the harbor. Even when storms were blasting the coast with wind and sheets of rain, sea lions piled up on the shore.
Northcoast Marine Mammal Center Executive Director Karen Helms said hundreds of sea lions go back and forth from the shore to the water daily to feed on herring. She estimated that many have come into the harbor from Castle Rock, a National Wildlife Refuge off Pebble Beach.
“There aren’t this many in the harbor, usually,” she said. “They’re following schools of herring into the marina.”
Asked if they feed at particular times, Helms said it’s not the case.
“There really isn’t a certain time of day when a school of fish goes by,” she said. “When one discovers it, the rest will follow.”
She said herring are spawning in the rocks around the marina, bringing sea lions in numbers not seen in a long time.
Harbormaster Charlie Helms said he and harbor staff also had not seen such numbers in years.
Helms noted one dock popular with the sea lions on the northwest side had to be pulled from the harbor.
“The rings that held the dock to the piles broke under the weight of all the sea lions,” he said. “It just floated off and we had to pull it up onto the shore.”
Having the docks over by Anchor Way has helped to keep sea lions out of the marina over the years. Charlie said the Harbor District has a couple more dock sections on land that could be floated out and anchored.
However, he also said the presence of sea lions has not caused any issues for boats.
“We have a pretty good view from our office,” he said. “They’re really agile. When boats come at them, they just get out of the way and after the boat goes by, they close back in.”
“They can run faster than a human being,” was Helms’ surprising advice when it comes to viewing sea lions on shore. “They can also bite and they carry diseases that are transferable to humans and dogs.”
There have been so many sea lions on land near the Chartroom Restaurant this week that they have run out of space and are encroaching on the sidewalk where people were stopping Monday morning to see them.
While they are fun to photograph, taking any kind of a selfie with one would not be advised.
“The general rule is that if you are close enough that they react to you, you are too close,” Helms said.
While their cute and playful nature may make adult sea lions dangerous to humans, harbor seal pups’ cuteness is dangerous to them. With pupping season just around the corner, locals and visitors should know to simply leave them be and stay a measurable distance away.
Helms said that as pups, harbor seals are about the size of a football and covered in creamy white fur. This makes them threatened by caring but ignorant humans, as well as domestic dogs.
“It is perfectly normal for them to be born on the beach and it’s also normal for the mothers to leave the pups on the beach for extended periods,” Helms said. “They are not in distress, so please leave them alone.”
Helms said you should not pick up the pups, attempt to put them back in the water or try to take them home. Also, if the mother seal sees a person on the shore near the pups, it may keep her from coming back.
“About 95 percent of the mammals that we treat here at the center are the result of human interactions,” she said.
Weighing only about 12 to 14 pounds, large dogs will often pick them up and maul them or play with them to the point of killing them.
“Dog attacks on seal pups are a huge problem,” Helms said, “and it’s the number one cause of death for seal pups.”
Anyone who finds a pup on the shore and thinks they are in danger should call the NMMC at 707-951-4722.