Nature

Popular San Francisco Bay cove closed to swimmers after rare sea lion attacks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 December, 2017, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 December, 2017, 6:05pm

Two sea lion attacks in a San Francisco Bay cove led authorities to close the popular area to swimmers on Friday as officials tried to determine the reason for the aggressive behaviour.

A sea lion bit a man in the groin area on Friday as he swam in the waters off San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, park spokesman Lynn Cullivan said. It was “a very serious bite”, and the man was taken to hospital, he said.

The cove hosts swimming and rowing clubs and is a favourite spot for dedicated swimmers. It is usually a transit area for sea lions heading to Pier 39, where they congregate, Cullivan said.

The area just off Ghirardelli Square, a popular square with shops and restaurants, will be closed to swimmers until Monday, he said.

Another swimmer was seriously injured on Thursday after a sea lion bit him on the arm. Officers applied a tourniquet and he was taken to hospital, where he had a least two surgeries.

The victim, Christian Einfeldt, said the animal followed him as he swam from the beach to the mouth of the cove. When he turned to swim back, the massive sea lion was right there, he told San Francisco television station KGO.

“I did feel threatened. I did have warning. But I was a quarter-mile from shore. There was nothing I could do,” Einfeldt said between surgeries.

When the sea lion got near Einfeldt, he splashed water on it, but the animal did not go away, said Matthew Reiter with the San Francisco Police Department’s Marine Unit.

“When it didn’t work, he yelled at it and then the sea lion came up and bit him on the arm,” Reiter said.

He started bleeding. Knowing he could not swim back, Einfeldt said he flagged down a sailing boat.

“I was relatively calm because I wasn’t dead,” he told the television station.

A man on the boat pulled him on board and called the police.

The aggressive behaviour is so unusual for sea lions that officials think the same animal attacked both swimmers, Cullivan said.

“It could just be a sea lion being territorial, or it could be an injured or sick mammal,” he said.

Cullivan said the swimmers were closer to the bay than to the shore when they were attacked.

“People think the bay is their backyard, but it really is the beginning of the wilderness,” he said. “There is wilderness out there.”