California Travel Tips

Seein’ the Sea Lions

Published on: January 11, 2019


The annual Sea Lions Arrival to Pier 39 in San Francisco is celebrated with great enthusiasm as adoring fans (that include tourists and locals) come to experience a scene reminiscent of the return of the swallows to Capistrano each March.

The 29th Anniversary of the Sea Lions to Pier 39 welcomes droves of boisterous barking pinnipeds who began arriving in 1989 after the Loma Prieta earthquake hit San Francisco.

California sea lions breed each summer as far south as Mexico, then cruise up the Pacific Coast to forage. Their population dropped dramatically but rebounded from 30,000 in the late 1960s to about 300,000 today because of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

With their numbers growing, their appetite is having disastrous consequences that’s putting the lives of some in jeopardy. Seen eating a dwindling supply of steelhead fish at risk of going extinct, Oregon state officials were granted permission to kill this federally endangered species if:

  • the targeted sea lion ate at least one steelhead near Willamette Falls between Nov. 1 and Aug. 15
  • was observed in the same stretch of river on two consecutive days in that period
  • was not selected for adoption by a zoo or aquarium

To protect endangered salmon more than 150 sea lions below the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River have already been killed.

These sea lions have reached their Optimum Sustainable Population (OSP), according to an assessment by scientists from NOAA. While the marine environment is always changing, the population has basically come into balance with its environment.

Now is a great time to see sea lions and seals along the California coast.

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