Canadian port officials said the parents of a little girl who was yanked into the water by a sea lion — a shocking moment captured in a now-viral video — should not have let the child get close to the animal.
Robert Kiesman, chair of the Steveston Harbor Authority in British Columbia, told CBC News the tourist destination on Canada’s western coast had several signs telling people not to feed sea animals.
The video showed the sea lion swimming near the dock after someone threw a piece of food. Then, terror.
“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 animal 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.”
Kiesman’s comments came after the incident Saturday at Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf near Vancouver, British Columbia.
The startling video taken by Michael Fujiwara shows the little girl was sitting at the edge of the dock when the sea lion rose from the water, grabbing her by her white dress and dragging her into the water.
Onlookers can be heard screaming in horror, as an unidentified man immediately jumped into the water to save the girl.
Fujiwara’s video was posted on YouTube, where it has since been viewed millions of times.
The Steveston Harbor Authority also posted a statement on its website repeating the warning not to feed animals that frequent the seaside area.
“While we appreciate that seeing wildlife can be exciting, we stress that feeding wildlife is both illegal and dangerous!” the statement said, adding later: “Also, keep in mind that feeding wildlife can also be extremely detrimental to the animals themselves, as they may learn to associate humans with an easy source of food, which can lead to them not being able to successfully secure food in the wild.”
Federal law in Canada prohibits people from disturbing marine animals except when fishing. The maximum fine for violating the rule is $100,000.
Kiesman said port officials have posted more signs along the Steveston dock since the incident.
“DO NOT FEED OR TOUCH THE ANIMAL. Do not get close to the animal and keep children away. Observe it only from a distance,” one of the signs says.
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The first part of the video shows the sea lion swimming near the dock as tourists gathered around. The sound of cameras clicking can be heard as onlookers marveled at the animal’s size.
The animal swims closer after grabbing a piece of food that someone threw.
“So cute,” someone can be heard saying.
The sea lion rises from the water toward the girl who was kneeling near the dock, then goes back in. She and the others laugh. The animal jumps up again after the girl sat on the edge of the dock.
No one appears to have been injured. The girl and her family, who have not been identified, can be seen leaving right after she was out of the water.
“They were pretty shaken up,” Fujiwara told CBC News. “Her family was just in shock.”
Andrew Tites, director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit, also criticized those who got close to the animal, which he said is a California sea lion.
“My first reaction to the video is just how stupid some people can be to not treat wildlife with proper respect,” he told CBC News.
Kiesman echoed Tites.
“We’ve now seen an example of why it’s illegal to do this and why it’s dangerous and frankly stupid to do this,” he said.
Tites said sea lions are not naturally dangerous, and it’s likely that the animal thought the girl’s dress was food.
Attacks by sea lions on humans are rare, Lt. John Sandmeyer told a local television station in San Diego, where a sea lion dragged a 62-year-old man off his boat and about 20 feet underwater. Dan Carlin was posing for a picture with a yellowtail fish he had caught when the sea lion bit into his hand and pulled him overboard, the TV station reported.
An adult California sea lion is about the same size as a 6-foot-tall man and weighs about 610 to 860 pounds. Though the “cliched circus seal” that balances a ball on its nose and jumps through hoops is typically a California sea lion, such animals in the wild are sleek and faster than any other sea lion, according to a National Geographic article.
They live along North America’s western coast. Males migrate north during the winter season and return to the California and Mexican coastlines during the summer to breed.