Why, Oh Why, Did San Francisco's Famous Sea Lions Disappear?

By Andrew Moseman | December 30, 2009 10:36 am

Sea LionsAfter 20 years in one spot, anyone can get restless. That goes for the famous sea lions of San Francisco’s Pier 39. They swelled to their largest population ever just a couple months ago and then almost totally disappeared this month, baffling local marine experts.

The animals have been a fixture on Pier 39 since 1990, when a big herring run lured the sea lions into San Francisco Bay. The Marine Mammal Center gets so many questions about the 1,000-pound creatures that the nonprofit staffs a small kiosk on Pier 39; the pier’s insignia includes the silhouette of a sea lion [San Francisco Chronicle]. In October more than 1,700 sea lions laid about on Fisherman’s Wharf. But the exodus began the day after Thanksgiving, and by yesterday only 10 remained hanging out near the docks.

Jeff Boehm of the Marine Mammal Center said the sea lions probably left in pursuit of a food source, the same reason they would’ve come to Pier 39 in the first place. But Boehm said the fact that so many sea lions stayed for so long is even stranger than their disappearance [AP]. That is, sea lions tend to travel far and wide rather than sticking it out in one place for so long.

Boehm and other scientists can’t say for sure why the lions picked this particular moment to depart, either. It’s an El Niño year in the Pacific, but the effects have been moderate, San Francisco’s weather has been close to normal, and other animals don’t seem to be affected. The marine scientists aren’t too worried about the sea lions’ welfare, since they’re typically travelers, and Boehm and company say the marine mammals could very well return next year.

That would be a consolation prize for organizers of the 20th anniversary celebration for Pier 39’s sea lions planned for Jan. 15; they saw their guests of honor bolt at the last minute. “The party will go on nonetheless,” said Sue Muzzin, a spokeswoman for Pier 39. “Well, I think it will” [The New York Times]. There are some people, though, who wouldn’t necessarily complain if the droves of sea lions never return: fisherman. One recently told a local radio station, “They’re cute when they’re in here lying on the docks by Pier 39, but they’re not too cute out in the ocean when they’re stealing your livelihood” [Wired.com].

Related Content:
80beats: Who Would Win in a (Legal) Fight: A Whale or a Battleship?
Discoblog: Sixty Thousand Sturgeon Have a Group Hug in Oregon
The Intersection: Sea Lions and Dolphins and Polar Bears! Oh, My!
DISCOVER: Rio, the Logical Sea Lion

Image: Wiki Commons / Webaware

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
MORE ABOUT: california, mammals, ocean
  • http://ownid.blogspot.com/ Proper Gander

    So long, and thanks for all the fish…

  • A60sMan

    Any chance that the sea lions have sensed vibrations of an impending earthquake?

  • Prem Das

    A60sman may have hit the nail spot on. It maybe sunami party time folks.

  • Josh

    “Stealing your livelyhood”??????

    Is this guy serious??? Does he actually think that because selling fish makes him money then they are HIS?? How the hell can someone be so selfish to think that an animal just eating it’s natural food source is STEALING from him.

  • Internetto

    They were never there in the first place. It was just a prank holographic projection of seals from the 22nd Century. Teenagers… they never change.

  • Cino

    Pending Natural disaster…or Orcas/Great Whites have moved in. Sea lions aren’t the only ones that follow dinner.

  • Christina Viering

    Looking to redecorate.

  • Fast Eddie

    Must be global warming……

  • M B

    @Josh – aren’t humans part of nature too? Why should the sea lions eat to excess (and they occasionally do) but humans can’t? 😉


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar