Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I know why the sea lions have disappeared

By J. Thomas Duffy

There is a story sweeping across the media today on this incredible mystery, out in San Francisco, this headline greeting me upon firing up the computer this morning:

San Francisco’s sea lion horde evacuates its Pier 39 home

OMG!

Is it Climate Change, reaching down it's mighty fist, snatching up the slithery, yelping Sea Lions?

A new "Zodiac Killer" targeting the sea mammals?



Hardly.

From Daniel Stone at Newsweek:

At San Francisco’s famed Pier 39, tourists are treated to a perfectly fascinating scene of California Sea Lions sunning themselves on floating wooden platforms, yelping ferociously and diving over one another. But not anymore, according to an AP story published yesterday that highlights a strange exodus of virtually all sea lions from the area. The Washington Post gave the story top billing on its website, as did the LA Times and over 400 other news sources. The Huffington Post was the most sensational, accentuating the alarming (and misleading) headline: San Francisco’s Famous Sea Lions Have VANISHED.

[snip]

Sea lion visitation to Pier 39 fluctuates with the season. Numbers during the summer – at one point as high as 1,700 – usually drop to about 60 to 100 in the winter months of December and January due to weather and food accessibility in the Bay. This year has been a little more extreme, but it hasn’t hit zero. About a dozen sea lions have stuck around to entertain Embarcadero tourists. And the numbers that did stick around when the weather got cold in November were slightly higher than normal this time of year.

And, more, from Alexis Madrigal over at Wired:

The sea lions’ disappearance is as strange as their initial colonization of the pier about 20 years ago, in late 1989. They just started showing up one day and as their numbers increased, their traditional hang out, Seal Rocks, became less populated. There are all sorts of theories about why the pier became a favorite haul-out spot for the sea lions, but no one knows for sure why the animals’ behavior changed.

Stoudt averred that the officials at the Marine Mammal Center weren’t worried about the animals’ disappearance from their standard location. The sea lions are migratory animals, after all, and it’s natural for them to move around.

So, even though no one has found them, “there really isn’t a reason to be looking for them,” Stoudt said.

Just an enormously slow news day, in which an otherwise non-news-story would be totally overlooked, and dismissed, gets top billing with racing, forest-fire speed.

The sea lions' migratory habits, and follow-the-food-instincts not withstanding, there is a rather simple reason they all up and left.

They had to be getting the message late, but someone, or something, hipped them that they were hanging out at one of the culturally foulest, crudest, greediest tourist traps in all the lands, Pier 39.

It is a rank armpit of a place.

And that they built an "observation deck" to exploit the sea lions, to suck in more hapless tourists, well, it's poetic justice that the sea lions gave them a proverbial "up yours!" and got out of there.

Way to go Sea Lions, way to go ...




(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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