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Surprise present for the holidays - a sea lion

Seal Sitters’ hotline operators receive numerous calls each year of “sea lions” on the beach because there are many folks out there who are not aware of the physical differences between species of California sea lions and harbor seals. So, operators will always ask, “Does the seal have spots? Are there ear flaps? Is it big and brown?” Most every time, the animal ends up to be a harbor seal with a spotted coat, small flippers and ear holes.

However, late Thursday afternoon the report of a sea lion hauled out on the Don Armeni boat launch dock turned out to indeed be a California sea lion. An adult male with a prominent forehead “bump” (known as a sagittal crest and indicating a sexually mature male animal) was stretched out midway down the dock. Volunteers blocked off access with sandwich boards, cones and tape. Health assessment photos were taken and sent to WDFW’s marine mammal biologist to determine if the animal had health issues or was merely seeking a convenient place to rest - well, not so convenient for those wanting to use the dock, but luckily there was virtually no boat traffic.

The sea lion spent the night on the dock under the watchful eye of volunteers and returned to the water at 8am Friday. The consulting biologist reports the sea lion appears to have swollen lymph glands or a neck abscess.

California sea lions can reach 8 feet in length and weigh up to 850 lbs. They are very mobile on land and can be dangerous if approached or harassed. Always keep your distance. Like harbor seals, they need to rest a good portion of their day. The buoys in Elliott Bay are packed with CA sea lions (and sometimes a huge Steller or two). It could be that this older sea lion with a possible injury needed refuge from the jostling and barking of sea lions on the buoys.

A young, alert harbor seal pup hauled out on the dock opposite the sea lion about 7 Thursday night, and volunteers educated the public about the difference in species. The pup returned to Elliott Bay early the next morning.

At a small cove just north of Salty’s restaurant, yet another seal pup rested from midday til late that night.

At Jack Block Park, we had a bounty of seal pups using protected areas.
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