Sea lions getting comfortable in the Oceanside Harbor
Boat owners in the Oceanside Harbor have some new dock-mates. Sea lions. And they’re causing some damage.
“Each seal can weigh up to 1,000 pounds for a big bull seal. You get a couple of them on there. They break swim steps. They’ve sunk boats," said Devan Halford, a boat cleaner in the harbor.
"Their oily skin, their excrement, gets on the side of boats. It dries like concrete and they’ve been an absolute nuisance," he said.
Halford said he saw an increase in sea lions after the Encina power plant in Carlsbad was decommissioned.
“They started by removing the giant floats that mark the cooling tubes out in front of the power plant, and that removed the seals' home. So they got displaced. Some went to seal beach, some came up here," he said.
The Oceanside Harbor has built a floating platform for the sea lions that serves as a “safe haven.” But they don’t always stay there.
"They get on the dock next to your boat and they defecate and it goes all over your boat and it's really hard to get it off. If you don't get it off, it stains. The smell takes a long time to get rid of and they're kind of dangerous trying to get to your boat," said Captain Bobby Watkins, the owner of two boats in the Oceanside Harbor.
While trying to access his boats, he’s had some close encounters.
Harbor staff say they routinely shoo sea lions away by pounding the dock with a broom handle. The sound and vibration tends to move them along.
Staff recommend boat owners “politely” move the sea lions off the docks.
"You have to spray them with water to try to get them off, it's what we’ve done. We've put up barriers. Try to do that and they knock them over, knock them in the water,” Captain Bobby said.
Michael Milstein is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency in charge of the protection of marine mammals and protected species.
"So anything that could lead to their death is off limits. But people have tried putting up rails in places, using water hoses and paint balls. And some cases have been effective," Milstein said.
He says that at one point, California sea lions were endangered, but the Marine Mammal Protection Act has helped increase their population. Their habitat, on the other hand, has decreased.
"Many of them have lost habitat to development and other human impact. So we have to recognize that in some cases, we're taking up space where they used to be right at home and that's affected them," Milstein said.
He recommends the public keep a safe distance, do not feed the seal lions, and dispose of bait as far away from harbors as possible.