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San Francisco Parties for Return of Runaway Sea Lions (and one of few marine mammal success stories)

Sea lions being admired, courtesy of Pier 39

San Francisco is having a party today to celebrate the return of the best urban marine mammal attractions in the country. The city appreciates its sea lions and is just saying, thank goodness they’ve come home. When they disappeared from Pier 39 last fall the whole world was worried. (Well, except for those who said that they tend to come and go. Which, it turns out, was right.)

Salty The Sea Lion mascot will be “available for hugs and photos,” a press release says. The Pier is also celebrating 20 years of having hundreds of 600-pound predators in a major city. They started showing up after a 1989 earthquake. Instead of getting ousted from valuable real estate, they city enjoyed them as a natural wonder–and created a major tourist attraction.

This could have gone down differently.  The sea lions took over expensive boat docks. Sure, the Marine Mammal Protection Act covers them. But the government is always willing to make exceptions. Oregon fishermen got permission to kill sea lions that hang out at a dam where salmon congregate.

Last year when 1,700 sea lions showed up, they tested San Francisco’s tolerance. The harbor drew up plans to keep them away from the nearby Hyde Street Pier.

The population numbers go up and down with weather, currents and food availability, so maybe they won’t need to be pushed out. The sea lions’ movements are still inscrutable, but the best going theory is that it was good food that brought them in such numbers last year and then herring that took them to the Oregon’s Sea Lion Cave over the winter (they usually go south to the Channel Islands).

The California sea lion is making a huge comeback–too big for some. It’s one of the few marine mammals whose numbers are healthy and increasing. Of seven sea lion species in the world, only two are not extinct, endangered or threatened, according to the IUCN Red List. The California sea lion is the only one whose population is increasing. Of about 355,000 animals, 238,000 live in California. Even if the disappearance of this crowd was media hysteria over a non-event, that’s still something to celebrate.

Where to go to See Seals and Sea Lions 
See the Pier 39 Sea Lion Webcam
Here’s where you can see wildlife out West

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