British Columbia

'Unbelievable': Dozens swarm dock where sea lion grabbed girl, despite warnings

The Steveston Fisherman's Wharf was packed with cellphone-wielding tourists and locals on Monday.

Tourists and locals clamber for a look at now 'infamous' animal, harbour authority says

Children stood at the front of the crowd to watch the sea lion as it swam up and down the dock's edge. (Christer Waara/CBC)

On Saturday, a girl was yanked off a dock in Richmond, B.C. by a California sea lion. Moments before, her family had thrown bread to the animal.

Video of the incident has been viewed more than 14 million times. Marine experts and port officials have sent out a slew of warnings, reminding the public to keep a safe distance from the animals.

However, many near the area seem to be doing just the opposite.

On Monday, the Steveston Fisherman's Wharf was packed with cellphone-wielding tourists and locals trying to catch a glimpse of the celebrity sea lion. Children leaned over the dock's edge, craning for a look.

Those on the wharf told CBC News they felt safe so long as they kept their distance. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Bob Baziuk, general manager for Steveston Harbour Authority, said he's flabbergasted.

"Unbelievably, last night there were about 100 people down there, mostly tourists, maybe some of them locals, picking up their kids and holding them over the water looking for the infamous sea lion," he told CBC News on Monday.

"Sometimes you gotta give your head a shake," he added. "Steveston's going to become synonymous with the 'Jaws' theme pretty soon. You have a hungry animal and these people are dumb enough to feed it."

One tourist at the dock on Monday told the CBC she and her grandchildren had come down to the wharf with hopes of seeing the animal.

"We've come to see the sights and we heard about the big sea lion," the Ontario woman said, adding she hadn't seen the viral video first hand.

Male California sea lions weigh more than 270 kilograms and can swim at speeds of up to 40 km/h. When sitting on land, they're about 1.8 metres (6 feet) tall.

Bacteria in the animals' mouths "can cause very serious infections that may lead to amputation of a limb or even death." 

Experts with the Vancouver Aquarium have warned that the animals could "absolutely jump up" on a dock if they want to.

"We need to make sure we're giving these animals the space they need ... don't habituate them. Let them be wild animals," said Danielle Hyson, a marine mammal trainer.

The sea lion seemed unbothered by all the attention. (Christer Waara/CBC)

New signs appeared on the dock Saturday, warning people not to feed the sea lions. The posters say the maximum penalty for "disturbing" a marine mammal is $100,000.​

Baziuk said the authority is looking at printing signs in more languages — such as Mandarin and Cantonese — to ensure tourists understand. Posters with a universal image are also being considered.

Still, he's frustrated things have gotten this far.

"I could put a massive sign up in every language, but to me it's the element of common sense." 

"With all of this that's happened, I want to take advantage of the media coverage to get the message out there: For crying out loud, use common sense when you're around creatures and the water in general — respect it."

With files from CBC's Anita Bathe