… and then, there were the Sea Lions

Yet another story from our pleasant stay in Monterey. I left this one for last on purpose, even though it happened on our first days there. This is the story of Us, and the Sea Lions of Monterey.

We have lived most of our lives within the tropics. Sea Lions are the type of animals we had only seen in zoos and aquariums. So, when we started seeing Sea Lions in natura on this journey, we fell in love instantly.

We saw our first Sea Lion right at the beginning of the journey, in Neah Bay – a big bull sitting prominently at the end of the dock at the marina. From there on there were sea lions almost everywhere we stopped. And our affection for them grew stronger.

Then we arrived in Monterey.

Right upon arrival to Monterey harbor - Seals and Sea Lions everywhere. even on mooring buoys.
Right upon arrival to Monterey harbor – Seals and Sea Lions everywhere. even on mooring buoys.

 

On the day of our arrival, just a few hours after we had tied Pesto up at the dock, Sea Lions came swimming close to us. For the first time I could clearly see one swimming under Pesto. In the afternoon, when Adriana and I were resting from the overnight passage, the kids came ecstatic inside the cabin, saying that three Sea Lions had climbed on a dock just a few yards away from us.

Up to now, it was Us who approached them. This time, these three Sea Lions took the initiative to climb on a dock near us. (We didn't know yet, but they were scouting the place)
Up to now, it was Us who approached them. This time, these three Sea Lions took the initiative to climb on a dock near us. (We didn’t know yet, but they were scouting the place)

 

When it was almost dusk, one large male climbed on our dock. We couldn’t believe it! The kids spent a long time outside watching our new neighbor. When it was time to go to bed, they <the kids> chose to sleep at our “guestroom” because they said they could hear the Sea Lion better from there.

Raquel and our new neighbor
Raquel and our new neighbor.

 

The next morning, the Sea Lion was gone – possibly to feed. But in the afternoon he was back, along with a few more. They swam along the docks for some time, near us. There was a lot of barking among them, as if they were discussing whether it was prudent or not to climb on our dock. Eventually one of them made it out of the water, then another one, and another. By the time it was dark, we had a whole clan of Sea Lions on the dock!

More Sea Lions, even more happiness, right? Read On.

Still in that afternoon, with the Sea Lion clan barking happily along Pesto on the starboard side, our <human> neighbor on the port side came to talk to me. Politely, he suggested that I consider calling the marina administration to get them chase the Pinnipeds out before the night. I told him the kids were in love with the animals, and so we changed subject. But I was intrigued with his apparent concern. Also intriguing were some devices people used to prevent Sea Lions on their docks at the marina …. Hmmm?!?

As the Sea Lion population started to grow exponentially alongside Pesto ...
As the Sea Lion population started to grow exponentially alongside Pesto …
... the more I understood the motivation of people to use those funky devices on their docks
… the more I understood the motivation of people to use those funky devices on their docks

 

Night came, and the Sea Lions didn’t settle. To the contrary. The marina’s security guard even came and chased them away for a while – which we <naively> found a bit inappropriate – but they soon came back. The kids were so happy. And so we spent the night hearing the loud barks, and Sea Lions coming in and out of the water alongside Pesto. The next morning, as they went away, all was left was a lot of Sea Lion hair, and the strong smell of their “business” which they left on the dock.

I was starting to understand, and secretly appreciate, the sea-lion-prevention devices on the other docks. And to regret not taking the wise advice of our human neighbor.

As the third day progressed, I got increasingly apprehensive with what the night had in store for us. It didn’t take long to find out. Just after dusk, the Sea-Lion-Bark symphony started. An even larger number of Pinnipeds came on the dock. A Sea Lion colony had formed just a few feet from us !!!

A Sea Lion colony of our own. Right there. Snug against our home.
A Sea Lion colony of our own. Right there. Snug against our home.

 

I decided this was worth documenting, and went outside to take the picture above. While I was on the dock, a large Sea Lion Bull came out of the water on the other side of the dock, literally flanking me against the other Pinnipeds. Next, he started growling at me and moving in my direction! Instinctively I filled my lungs to the maximum, and bellowed as loud as I could, also stomping my feet on the ground and waving my arms. It must have been a ridiculous sight, but at least it worked, and the large swimming Bull jumped back in the water and I rushed back to Pesto. When I came back onboard, the colony was still infuriated, and they were jumping up at the dock, clearly peeking inside the cabin through our windows. At one point I feared they could climb onboard. Later on, Adriana reminded me – the reason they freaked out was because of the camera flash. Fair.

The guy who almost attacked me.
The guy who almost attacked me. Look at his face, just a few seconds before charging.

 

It was a tough night to sleep. The Sea Lions now were on a frenzy, barking out loud and going in and out of the water, often hitting Pesto in the process, which would rock to their large bodies. But it got worse in the morning. As the Sea Lions went away, they left a mess behind. The dock, our mooring lines and … Pesto – all pooped up. Not to mention the Sea Lion hair, and other stuff of the smelly kind. Paulo volunteered to clean it up (aww!), which he did. Later on I tried to “perfect” his work, and in the process I ended up with Sea Lion poop and hair on my hands.

Early morning, the "day after". Before going away, the Sea Lions were still peeking through our windows. Eerie.
Early morning, the “day after”. Before going away, the Sea Lions were still peeking through our windows. Eerie.
The aftermath - Seal Lion poop everywhere, including Pesto's topsides
The aftermath – Sea Lion poop everywhere, including Pesto’s topsides
My best mooring cables, now dully defecated by the colony. I did clean it up afterwards, but ended up with Sea Lion poop on my hands in the process :-(
My best mooring cables, now dully defecated by the colony. I did clean it up afterwards, but ended up with Sea Lion poop on my hands in the process 🙁

 

That was it … without the kids knowing it, I went to the marina’s office and asked whether they had something non-aggressive to discourage the Sea Lions from coming to our dock at night. Luckily they sympathized, and an hour later Pesto was surrounded by wooden fences.

Our new protection - it worked. And stayed like this until we left.
Our new protection – it worked. And stayed like this until we left.

 

At night the Sea Lions still climbed on the dock, on both sides of the fences. But the fences seemed to take the joy out of it and soon they were gone.

From that point forward, my relationship with them started to improve slowly, and in a few days I was loving them again – as long as they were farther than pooping distance from Pesto, we were fine.

As for the kids, they were a bit sad with the fences. But still, they kept enjoying watching the Sea Lions elsewhere on the dock.

But we didn't have to walk long on the dock to find them.
But we didn’t have to walk long on the dock to find them.
And they kept top of mind with the kids all the time there.
And they kept top of mind with the kids all the time there.

 

Paulo in particular, would jump out on the dock as soon as he found out there was a Sea Lion on it. Soon he started identifying them, ironically developing a special affection for the same Bull that charged me the other day. My Sea-Lion nemesis now had a name: “Leo”.

Despite our bad start, Leo seemed to like Pesto, as he kept coming to sunbathe near us almost on a daily basis. I suspect he felt Paulo's appreciation of him.
Despite our bad start, Leo seemed to like Pesto, as he kept coming to sunbathe near us almost on a daily basis. I suspect he felt Paulo’s appreciation of him (and chose to accept my compulsion for photographing him and his clan).

 

Later, we discovered Leo was a key member of the Sea Lion colony in Monterey – kind of The Boss. Also, he was known for his bad humor. In fact, the staff at the marina’s office had a picture hanging on the wall with Leo chasing one of their staff. At the parking lot! Man, I was lucky the night …. Phew.

We kept seeing Sea Lions many times during every day we stayed in Monterey, and our affection and interest for them kept strong, despite the three-day incident at the beginning. In fact, Paulo and I started trying to film them underwater with our GoPro camera. We tried a few different techniques – from leaving it stationary underwater, to attaching it to a stick, and even taking it on a dinghy ride. After probably some 2 hours of shooting, we were able to capture a couple minutes of them swimming gracefully in the marina waters, of which I trimmed a few seconds to display here:

Sea Lion Sample

So, this is our story with the Sea Lions of Monterey. They are cute, adorable. But they are also wild, highly territorial animals. We need to respect and appreciate this.

On our last day there, we went for a walk on the Fishermen's Wharf. Paulo heard a now-familiar noise, and looked under the pier ...
On our last day there, we went for a walk on the Fishermen’s Wharf. Paulo heard a now-familiar noise, and looked under the pier …
... and guess who was down there, resting on the pier's structure along with his clan: Leo !
… and guess who was down there, resting on the pier’s structure along with his clan: Leo !

 

Let’s see what is in store for us as we move forward. As I understand it, our upcoming sailing grounds include areas were it is possible to even swim in company of the Pinnipeds. Looking forward to it, with a grain of salt.

Leave a Reply