Port officials in Steveston, B.C., a seaside community on Canada’s west coast now known as the site of the viral sea lion-yanking incident, have issued several warnings:
Don’t feed the sea lion.
Don’t touch it.
Don’t come near it.
Don’t let your children come near it.
But the warnings, which port officials said in media interviews and wrote on new signage at the wharf, did not stop people from flocking to the tourist destination to get a glimpse and snap pictures of the now-famous California sea lion.
By Monday, two days after a startling video captured the sea lion grabbing a little girl by her dress and dragging her into the water at the Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf near Vancouver, the area was crowded with tourists and locals, according to CBC News. It’s unclear whether anyone has been feeding the sea lion, but pictures taken by local media show people, including children, standing and leaning close to the dock. Some held up their phones to snap pictures.
Bob Baziuk, general manager of the Steveston Harbor Authority, told CBC News that about 100 people were at the dock Sunday night.
“Sometimes, you got to give your head a shake,” Baziuk said. “Steveston’s going to be synonymous with the ‘Jaws’ theme pretty soon. You have a hungry animal, and these people are dumb enough to feed it.”
The girl’s parents were criticized for letting their daughter get close to the sea lion and were accused of illegally feeding the animal with bread crumbs. The family acknowledged that the girl got too close, but told CBC News on Tuesday that they were neither feeding nor taking pictures of the sea lion. They also said the girl had a small wound on her lower body and she’s been treated.
The video taken by Michael Fujiwara shows the girl sitting at the edge of the dock when the sea lion rose from the water and swiftly grabbed her by her white dress. Onlookers can be heard screaming in horror as a man immediately jumped into the water to save the girl. The girl’s family told CBC News that the man is the girl’s grandfather.
Fujiwara’s video has been viewed millions of times. The first part of the footage 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 sea lion swims closer to the dock after someone threw a piece of food. It then rises from the water toward the girl who was kneeling near the dock, then goes back in. She and the others laugh. A second after she sat down on the edge, the animal jumps back up.
The Saturday incident continues to gain traction on social media, where many have dubbed it #SeaLionGate.
On Monday, the Steveston Harbor Authority 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.
Port officials also have posted more signs along the Steveston dock.
“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.
Baziuk, the harbor authority’s general manager, told CBC News that officials are looking into printing signs in other languages, such as Mandarin and Cantonese. The wharf is located in Richmond, British Columbia, where nearly 50 percent of residents are Chinese. Seventeen percent of residents in the neighboring Vancouver are Chinese.
Baziuk did not return a call from The Washington Post on Wednesday morning.
Sea lions are not naturally dangerous and attacks on humans are rare, experts say.
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.