Do Sea Lions Attack Humans
The great white shark is an apex predator that has been known to attack other sharks and even prey fish without being threatened itself. The tiger shark will sometimes hunt for hours before attacking its next victim. But as far as land predators go, there’s not much bigger than a large sea lion. These animals have long, sharp teeth that they use to kill their food with ease. And if you get between them and what they want to eat, well, you’re probably going to lose your arm or leg.
There are three species of sea lions — northern fur seals (Callorhinus northergillensis), southern fur seals (Callorhinus gaimardi) and Galapagos fur seals (Arctocephalus galapagoensis). They live along coastlines all over the world, except for Antarctica, where they don’t exist at all. Like many other marine mammals, these creatures are extremely social. Northern fur seals have colonies numbering into the thousands while individual southern fur seals may only number around 30 individuals. So despite their size, they travel in huge pods called “rafts.”
The largest sea lion colony inhabits the waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Although these animals are often referred to as “pinnipeds” — which means they walk like penguins — this isn’t quite true. Instead of waddling clumsily across ice floes, they swim by using side-to-side strokes. Their legs aren’t really designed for walking, so the term “sealsauger” comes to mind more readily.
In addition to their swimming capabilities, sea lions also have excellent sense of smell. This allows them to find their favorite fishing spots and track down schools of small schooling fish. Also, because most of their diet consists of fish, they’ve developed some interesting hunting techniques. When they spot what they think is a good meal, they’ll drop out of the water and wait until something foolish enough to approach them. Then they pounce!
They’re usually successful too; one study found that 40 percent of their kills were made up of larger animals such as seals, porpoises and dolphins. However, should you ever encounter a group of these animals underwater, keep your distance. You might not realize how dangerous they can be.
Attack On A Surfer
On April 29, 2007, a group of eight young female Galapagos fur seals swam toward a beach near Esperanza Marina in western Australia. As they approached shore, they spotted a 13-year-old girl named Racheal Leitch who was about 100 yards (91 meters) away. The seals chased her relentlessly, jumping out of the water every time she tried to escape. Eventually, she ran back to her father, Mark Leitch, who had paddled his boat ashore. Mr. Leitch grabbed his daughter and escaped back onto the boat. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it far before four of the females attacked him. One seized his right arm, another took hold of his left hand and another bit deep into his chest area. Another seal reached up and tore chunks of flesh from his face. All told, the attack lasted about 20 minutes. Luckily, Ms. Leitich survived the ordeal, but she lost two fingers and suffered serious injuries to both hands. She spent several days in hospital before returning home to recover.
Despite their size, sea lions are capable of inflicting serious injury upon each other. For instance, males will fight to the death over access to females during mating season. Females will occasionally engage in combat against others trying to steal their calves.
When fighting among themselves, male sea lions kick and bite each other with their powerful hind limbs. Males have been observed kicking others in the head, neck and shoulders with a force equal to 3 tons of pressure per square inch. This is strong enough to break bones. Seals’ front claws grow continuously throughout life, and males use them to inflict wounds as well.
It’s possible to injure a sea lion yourself simply by getting in the way when they’re eating. One man decided to take matters into his own hands after observing a sea lion attack on a seal carcass. He walked up to the animal and punched it in the nose. The blow stunned the sea lion long enough for the man to grab its tail and pull it away from the corpse. While this would normally cause severe bleeding and possibly death, the sea lion recovered quickly. It eventually died of natural causes.
But unlike sharks, whose mouths contain rows of serrated teeth designed to slice through skin and muscle tissue, sea lions have blunt incisors. Their canine teeth are worn down from grinding up hard foods like shellfish. To help their jaws stay healthy, these animals have no need for continuous dental care. If you happen to get bitten by a sea lion, you won’t experience any pain since sea lions lack nerve endings in their mouth.
So why do people say that sea lions bite with their tails? The answer lies in the anatomy of the sea lion’s lower lip. It contains a series of small ridges running parallel to the length of the animal’s body. Each ridge forms a nubbin with soft cartilage inside. Because the sea lion doesn’t have the ability to retract this structure, it ends up biting the ground instead.
One reason that sea lions are so feared by humans is that they’re typically aggressive towards boats. Most fishermen avoid interacting with them altogether. Even though they don’t pose a threat to us, we’d rather not share our space with these animals either. In fact, in California, there are laws prohibiting anyone from killing sea lions.
While most sea lions tend to shy away from human interaction, they do occasionally become curious about us. In 2006, a pair of southern fur seals came close to the bow of a ship off the coast of San Diego. After watching the sailors for a few moments, one of the animals jumped overboard. The other followed shortly afterward. Both ended up being captured safely. Scientists believe the animals wanted to see what humans did on ships.
Learn more fascinating facts about sea lions in “Sea Lion Facts & Fun,” published by Mokee Gamebird Productions. We pick related titles based on books we think you’ll like. Should you choose to buy one, we’ll receive a portion of the sale.
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