SF Sea Lions Still Missing; But Plans Hatching to Keep Next Year’s Crowd in Check

It’s hard to know what we should worry about San Francisco’s missing 1,700 sea lions. That they (and the popular tourist destination they’ve become) disappeared almost completely? Or should we blame the media for overblowing a normal seasonal swing, as Newsweek does? Or should we be more anxious that the population there was about double the usual number, which the area can’t really support?

 Harbormaster Hedley Prince think the story has gotten absurd media play considering their numbers always dip in the winter. He’s more worried about keeping the Hyde Street Pier clear of sea lions and wants to get permission to try a gentler method than electric shocks and pellets: he wants trained dogs to chase them away.

But, meanwhile, like everyone else, he can’t figure out why they vacated so completely. “This should be their happy time,” Prince says, noting that  a herring spawn means there’s plenty of food. But these California sea lions have always been inscrutable. No one knew why they showed up in 1989, why they reached record numbers this year. “Suddenly in August they all showed up,” says Prince. “It was the craziest thing.”

A dozen or so sea lions are still out in the area of Pier 39 and the Hyde Street Pier, Prince says. (You see the live webcam, though it’s pretty boring right now.) Three have fishing lines around their necks, the Marine Mammal Center says, which is trying to rescue them. The big males took off to

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Visit Baby Harp Seals; Give Hunters a New Job and a New Attitude

More than 20 years ago, Ben Bressler first got the idea of taking tourists to see the whitecoats, the adorable white baby harp seals, which are famous for their brutal slaughter the on Canadian ice floes. Bressler, along with IFAW, figured if he could find a way to make more money off showing off seals than killing them, he could change their thinking.

“It’s a much bigger issue there than the actual revenue,” Bressler says. “The rest of Canada has nothing to do with hunting, but feels that Americans shouldn’t be sticking their nose into their business.”

So, he started bringing tourists. Decades later, both tourists and hunters still visit the baby seals. But Bressler’s tours have gradually eroded the defiant enthusiasm for the seal hunt. In a world increasingly covered with identical suburban sprawl, the Magdelan Islands profit by drawing people to a place that looks completely different and has something no one can copy. No corporation can open up a franchise of its seal pup nursery in Times Square. The seal tours were just the first of Bressler’s animal journeys: now he runs Natural Habitat Adventures, which takes tiny groups to secluded areas where animals live in the wild.

But to get there, Bressler first had to tackle all of the logistics and politics of the seal hunt. About 70% of the the hunting happens on “the Front,” the wildly inacessable sea off Newfoundland and Labrador. But the pictures and protest focus on the Gulf

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Cape Cod Shark Update: Look Further Up the Coast, Captain Says

Yesterday we reported on how the Great White Sharks that are closing beaches on Cape Cod are also drawing shark tourists. Today another seal boat captain tells us they’re looking in the wrong spot.

Captain Keith Lincoln of Monomoy Island Ferry says that people are mistakenly hanging around Chatham Lighthouse since that’s where the shark was first sighted by kayakers a eating a seal in August. “That is all due to the misleading information given by the media,” says Captain Keith. “Massachusetts Department of Fisheries page shows all the taggings being done three miles south of the lighthouse near the area where South Beach and South Monomoy Island attached in 2006.”

Looking at the Fisheries map here, he’s totally right. Excellent tip, Captain Keith. (Though they do also show pictures of sharks offshore of the lighthouse.) He also warns that even if you’re in the right place, the odds of seeing a shark are pretty impossible. The tagging teams use spotters on planes and perches 35 feet out of the water.Captain Keith reports he’s “calls about seeing the sharks, which is nearly impossible to guarantee.” I think the seal tourists of Cape Cod have gotten spoiled; the tour boats can guarantee sightings because they’re dealing with the east coast’s biggest colony of gray seals, which is somewhere around 10,000. Normally wildlife watching is no sure thing.

Captain Keith, a 20-year veteran of the seal tours, says the sharks (and attendant media frenzy) come every year. “I think this year

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Sharks (& The East Coast’s Biggest Seal Colony) Draw Tourists

When news got out that Chatham, MA’s, gray seal colony–the biggest on the east coast–was drawing sharks that closed beaches, a funny thing happened. Or didn’t happen. Instead of running away scared, more tourists came to this little town on Cape Cod’s elbow to see some sharks, hoping for a picture, or at least a glimpse.

“It’s a big draw,” says Lisa Franz, executive director of the Chatham Chamber of Commerce. “We have traffic jams… People are still walking in today and saying ‘Where can we see them?’”

Tony LaCasse, a former veteran Boston TV newsman, says years ago local TV news would’ve been filled with scared would-be swimmers. But that was before years of education that drilled home how very unlikely it is to be bitten, let alone eaten, by a great white shark in New England. (Last fatal attack: 1936) Now we get shark tourists. “It’s a long way from Jaws,” says LaCasse, where the premise was they couldn’t possibly close the beach on the Fourth of July.

The sharks are coming because the water is (briefly) warm and because the seal population has grown unchecked–well, that is, until the sharks showed up. Seal populations were kept artificially low for decades–maybe centuries. Until the 1960s, Massachusetts even paid a bounty for each seal (“a nickel a nose” in the early 1900s). Now seals are making a comeback. Cape has the biggest population on the American east coast, with roughly 10,000 (no one’s done a formal count since

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Prince Edward Islanders watching seal colony for sixty years

Yesterday David, Jolly and I got to see a huge colony of grey and harbor seals living on an island wildlife sanctuary on Prince Edward Island Canada. The Captain of Marine Adventures told us he’d been doing the tours for nine years and that the tour had been running since the early 1980s. He also mentioned that he recently had a 64-year-old woman passenger who said that her father used to take her out to see the seals when she was a little girl. It’s fun to think of how long people have enjoyed just going out to see the seal colony.

The captain told us that a few years ago the seals were counted and there were about 300, but he now thinks there are less, somewhere between 200 and 300. The seal pups were wiped out in recent winters because there was no ice to protect them when a storm hit.

I couldn’t count how many we saw sunning themselves on a sandbar with some cormorants and gulls. Or swimming out in the water to watch us. Some kept bobbing up behind the boat like they were following us. I asked the captain whether some people threw them fish–a tactic that more than one passenger on our cruise discussed. He said, no, it was illegal to feed them, but that maybe that’s what they were looking for from the boats. Fishermen would shoot them if they saw them behind their boats, he said.

Generally this wasn’t

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Pay to Play with a Seal Lion in Boston

New England Aquarium, Boston, Play with Marine Mammals

The New England Aquarium lets you play with their sea lions and seals. In the last few years a number of animal rescue groups and traditional aquariums have hit on the idea of, well, basically, pimping out their animals. You pay a little extra and get a little extra contact, how much depends on how much you pay.The New England Aquarium has two programs. For $30 you can feed seals, but for $125 you get to help feed, entertain and train sea lions, seals and maybe a large turtle.It’s a small group–just three–and the real trainers are incredibly gracious in letting you enjoy the fun part of their job. Still, I felt a little bit idiotic since it was me and two kids. (They say it’s about half and half adults to kids. And that often parents bring kids, but it’s obviously really for mom or dad.)We started off with the sea lions, who are soon leaving for Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. We got to see the sea lions’ kitchen and warm indoor pool. When we went outside, the sea lions, Guthrie, an 838 pound mush, and Ballou, a younger, smaller and more shy sea lion.Guthrie watches the crowds and came by as soon as we walked in–assuming it was feeding time. We got to feel his thick wet fur, massive fins. We each put fish in his mouth, which was big but full of worn down, black teeth so not

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