Woman bitten by sea lion while swimming at Aquatic Park

A woman was bitten by a sea lion while swimming at Aquatic Park on Thursday morning, becoming the latest victim of a pinniped attack in the San Francisco Bay in recent weeks.
The Fire Department responded at about 7 a.m. to a report of a sea lion attack at Aquatic Park and found the woman being cared for by a retired San Francisco fire paramedic, who happened to be swimming in the area at the same time, fire officials said.

SEE RELATED: Aquatic Park to remain closed to swimmers through Wednesday after sea lion attacks

The woman was bitten in the knee and taken to San Francisco General Hospital. She’s expected to survive.

Last month, several sea lion attacks at Aquatic Park prompted authorities to temporarily close the area to swimmers, but there were no plans to close the cove Thursday, said Lynn Cullivan, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

“We will be continuing to monitor the situation,” Cullivan said. “We have refreshed some signs…about dangerous marine mammals.” He added that swim clubs have also been notified of Thursday’s attack.

On Dec. 15, a man was bitten by a sea lion and suffered injuries that were not considered life-threatening, though he was taken to a trauma center.

A day earlier, a San Francisco police boat pulled a swimmer from the waters who had been bitten by what’s thought to be a sea lion on the upper arm. That man was taken to a hospital with a serious injury but was expected to survive, fire officials said at the time.

Cullivan said there was a third attack reported in the area last month, but did not have details on the exact date or circumstances. He said it’s highly unlikely that the same sea lion bit the swimmers.

Park rangers monitoring Aquatic Park Cove the week of the attacks last month observed what appeared to be three young male sea lions swimming west from Hyde Street Harbor across the Aquatic Park Cove entrance, and toward the bend of Aquatic Park Pier, where they began moving along the Pier’s wave baffles and pilings, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported. They may have been feeding on the herring currently spawning in San Francisco Bay.

Those attacks came at the end of a challenging year for sea lions.

In August, the Marine Mammal Center observed an uptick in domoic acid poisoning in sea lions on the San Luis Obispo Coast. Domoic acid is produced by algae and accumulates in small fish-like sardines, which sea lions eat, causing lethargy, disorientation, seizures and death.

Wayward sea lions had to be rescued from the median of the Great Highway near Ocean Beach in May as well as a Vacaville canal in March.

Laura Sherr, a spokesperson for the Marine Mammal Center, said that attacks like the ones at Aquatic Park are infrequent but not unheard of.

“It happens,” Sherr said. “It’s not super common, but it does happen.”

Sherr said humans share the coastline with wild animals. They’re easily stressed by humans, and sometimes they bite.

“Sea lions are naturally curious and playful animals so often they will approach swimmers and they’re just curious, and maybe they don’t realize how serious their bite can be,” Sherr said. “It could be defensive, it could be curiosity, but it’s hard to know for certain.”

For open water swimmers, sea lion bites typically affect the legs, according to a study conducted by center staff. People should usually be treated by a medical professional if there are signs of trauma because of the risk of infection.

In the event of an attack, swimmers should leave the water immediately.

On shore, Sherr stressed that there are lots of sea lion pups being born this time of year, so it’s important for humans to keep a distance of at least 50 feet.

Touching or petting a resting sea lion is a bad idea and it’s prohibited by the Marine Mammal Act, according to the center. Flying drones too close can adversely affect their behavior, and is also prohibited.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.

Laura Dudnick
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Laura Dudnick

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