Seal attacks swimmers in Aquatic Park

A bloodthirsty seal has made its wrath felt in the normally calm waters of Aquatic Park, forcing officials to shut down the popular swimming destination near Fisherman’s Wharf until the attacker is found.

What swimmers say is a baby seal began its campaign Monday, biting five swimmers and drawing blood from three of its victims. The seal resurfaced Wednesday, attacking nine more swimmers, according to Lou Marcelli of the Dolphin Swimming Club. None of the injuries were considered to be life -threatening.

Lynn Cullivan of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, which oversees the water, said park rangers are investigating to see whether a seal or a sea lion has been behind the bites. Still, swimmers and rangers wonder what would possess the normally calm seals and sea lions, whichare known to rest in the frigid waters of the park, to attack.

“I have never seen anything like this, and I have been swimming here since I was a kid, and I am a pretty old guy,” said Marcelli , who was one of Wednesday’s nine victims. He said the seal bumped him and left a bruise. Marcelli, who swims at the park daily, said the last time he can recall an attack was 18 years ago.

Both the Dolphin Swim Club and the South End Rowing Club have members who regularly swim at the park without wet suits and come in contact with the animals without incident.

Cullivan said it is not uncommon for both seals and sea lions to swim at Aquatic Park, but attacks are rare. The 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, will be closed for swimming indefinitely until officials find the perpetrator.

“There are maybe 10 sea lion bites in the country all year,” he said. “The thought is, it’s probably one animal. We are going to try and get out there and identify and determine why it’s been aggressive.”

The attacks have not, however, struck fear in the hearts of the 200 swimmers who bear the cold water daily to get their exercise, according to Marcelli.

“You take your chances,” he said. “My next swimming day is Friday. I am going to go in, but I am going to swim right next to the shore in case something happens I can step right out.”

sfarooq@examiner.com

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