Aggressive seal at Aquatic Park remains elusive

Park rangers and marine biologists were searching the waters of Aquatic Park for clues leading to the capture of the serial biting seal.

The water park, which is home to several open water swims a year and is also the ending point for the infamous Escape from Alcatraz triathlon race, is closed for swimming indefinitely until officials find the seal or sea lion suspected of biting up to 14 swimmers in the normally calm lagoon near Pier 39. Authorities still had no leads on what might have bitten the wet suit-less swimmers and said that unless they catch the suspect in the act, they may never know.

“We are monitoring the situation closely [but] there is not a whole lot more to report,” John Cunnane of the Maritime National Historical Park said. “We are just trying to identify the mammal involved with the aggressive behavior.”

Park rangers and marine experts took to Aquatic Park on Thursday, floating buoys in hopes of attracting the animal that has drawn blood from victims and sent others in search of tetanus shots. But there were no signs of aggressive sea lions or seals.

Several of the cold-water swimmers who brave temperatures in the low 40s without wet suits showed the same fearlessness toward the aggressive animal by ignoring the advice of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, which oversees the water, and taking a dip in the frigid waters. Lou Marcelli of the Dolphin Swimming Club said about 40 percent of the 200 daily swimmers were in the water Thursday. No one was bitten, according to Cunnane.

“It looks like it’s over,” he said, although he pointed out that the suspect took a day off Tuesday after biting five swimmers Monday, biting nine more Wednesday. “I see people out there right now acting like nothing ever happened.”

Jim Oswald of the Marine Mammal Center said it is possible the animal attacked because it was sick or agitated. But he said it was unlikely the animal was defending a harem because most female sea lions are down south rearing their young. He said he suspected that the perpetrator moved on.

“This is a really good lesson if you see animals in the water, you should always try to stay away from there,” he said. “I know there are people out there who enjoy swimming with sea lions in the central coast, and that is not a good idea.”

sfarooq@examiner.com

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