Intelligent, playful giants that rarely attack unless provoked

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 January, 2009, 12:00am

Considered intelligent, social and playful, sea lions are protected marine mammals native to coastal areas of California, South America and Australia. Some species, like the Californian sea lion, are easily trained and often used as entertainers in zoos, circuses and marine parks such as Ocean Park.

Armed with between 34 and 38 teeth, including large, curved canines, sea lions mostly feed on fish, squid and octopus. They in turn are hunted by orcas and great white sharks. A large male can weigh as much as 520kg.

Sea lions rarely bite people unless provoked. In May 2006, a large male sea lion attacked three people at the Berkeley Marina in California. It bit a woman on the ankle and tried to drag her into the water.

In April last year, off the west coast of Australia, a 13-year-old girl suffered a deep cut to her throat, a broken jaw and three broken teeth when a sea lion leapt out of the water and mauled her.

Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung Ka-yiu said it was difficult to give a reason for a sea lion biting someone because people rarely came in contact with them in the natural environment. However, sea lions in captivity can become aggressive if they are unhappy or do not want to perform as instructed by handlers.

'If you ask me, the best way to stop this sort of thing from happening is for Ocean Park to stop staging such shows. Getting a sea lion to kiss you or perform tricks is unnatural and is an invitation to get bitten,' Mr Hung said.