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Sea Lions Proliferate In Oceanside Harbor

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Aired 4/5/11

Oceanside Harbor has seen a sudden spike in the sea-lion population. The animals are not as afraid of humans as the seals at La Jolla's Children's Pool.

Sea lions lounging on the dock at Oceanside harbor, April 7th 2011
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Above: Sea lions lounging on the dock at Oceanside harbor, April 7th 2011

Oceanside Harbor has seen a sudden spike in the sea lion population.

No one is quite sure why more than a dozen large sea lions have taken to hanging out there. RJ Cicero, who works at the Harbor Pelican Deli, says he grew up around the harbor, and he’s never seen so many.

“It really never used to be a problem,” he said, “but now they seem to be trying to take over. And they’re very aggressive, when they’re on land, toward people. When they’re in the water they’re not that bad, but on land they’re like crazy pit bulls.”

Cicero speculated that the sea lions migrated to the harbor after some big buoys that used to float off the coast of Carlsbad were removed. Now, he says, the huge animals have taken to heaving themselves up on to the launch dock, and even broke the swim step on the back of a boat moored across the harbor.

A mature sea lion can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Even swimming lazily around the floating docks where the fisherman keep their bait, you can see these are not like the seals in La Jolla's Children's Pool. They stick their whiskered snouts in the air, revealing huge, powerful necks. A pair of smaller sea lions - perhaps females - float nearby on their backs, each with one flipper raised in the sun like a sail. They're apparently oblivious to the kayakers who paddle past -- close, but not too close.

Fisherman complain the sea lions steal their bait and eat their catch. Boat dwellers complain they bark all night and keep them awake.

Some people have erected wooden barriers, tried hosing them off docks, even put up low-voltage electric lines.

Monica DeAngelis is a marine mammal biologist with the Southwestern Region of the National Marine Fisheries Service. She said sea lions are a protected species under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, she explained, this is a different situation from La Jolla, where the seals have taken over the beach.

“A dock or a buoy or someone’s boat, that’s not natural habitat,” she said.

DeAngelis said it is legal to use non-lethal means to deter sea lions from encroaching on private or public property, like a dock. But, she said, they’re intelligent animals and persistent. They can be taught tricks at Sea World, and they find their own tricks to get around man made barriers.

“We’re trying new technology: potentially introducing some low intensity sound into the water to see if that would exclude them from coming into the harbor itself," she said. "That’s ground breaking right now, we haven’t really done too much experimenting with that yet. “

In the meantime, the sea lions show every sign of enjoying their new-found territory. And mating season begins next month.

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