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Marine mammal mystery: Sea lions disappear from San Francisco's Pier 39

Sea lions

SAN FRANCISCO — Last month, marine scientists counted more than 1,500 sea lions on fabled Pier 39, a record number that delighted tourists and baffled experts. Why so many?  Why were they sticking around?  But now, almost all of the sea lions are gone, leaving the experts guessing where they went -- and why.

"Most likely, they left chasing a food source," said Jeff Boehm, executive director of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which runs an information center and gift shop at Pier 39. "It's probably what kept them here in the first place."

On Tuesday, 10 sea lions lounged and swam and dived from the docks, spreading themselves out where the animals were stacked three and four deep just a month ago. The bulk of the herd probably followed their favorite foods, sardines and anchovies, Boehm said.

The animals began leaving in droves the day after Thanksgiving, almost as if someone had issued an order. But Boehm said the fact that so many sea lions stayed for so long is even stranger than their disappearance.

"They do move off," Boehm said, adding that in the fall, older sea lions head to breeding colonies in the Channel Islands, off the coast of Southern California along the Santa Barbara Channel. Younger sea lions, he said, "don't mind those rules and tend to travel far and wide."

The younger ones still sticking around Pier 39 were enough to satisfy hordes of visitors huddled against the wind to watch them. The sea lions huddled together, dived off the docks, and honked and barked,

"We're happy with what we see," said Carmen Fernandez of Miami Beach, Fla., who was watching the sea lions with her husband, Carlos.

Despite the sea lions' abrupt disappearance, Boehm said the Marine Mammal Center is not concerned that they have left for good. While more then the usual number have left -- usually about 40 remain -- it is very unlikely, Boehm said, that they won't come back. He said the herd will probably come back, as usual, by the spring.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Tourists watch sea lions at Pier 39 in 2008.  Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press

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As with all animal exoduses there is usually a very acute reason for such movements. We humans always joke about these things prior to the event and them later after we reflect and think back to oursevles how cool it is that animals have the sixth sense into the future. My thoughts on this animal event is that those in San Franscisco may want to go into a higher level of awareness with regard to earthquakes. I seriously hope that this is something that will not come to pass, however this animal exodus may be a prelude to such an event. Siesomographers should take note and increase there awareness of the present activities in the region.
Not to be a doom and gloomer, and hopefully the sea lions are on some sort of happy traverse and may return with a good reason for thier departure, but as Mother Earth has informed the human species over and over again, pay attention to the other occuppants of her world as we are just the keepers.

I agree with nrgmanager. One living in or near SF would be wise to be vigilant, and perhaps take a New Year's vacation in the Mid-West.

Has anyone thought that maybe the Sea Lions can sense that there is going to be an earthquake in the Bay Area? Just a thought...

They disappear every year at this time. What's the big deal?

We were on our fist trip across the wonderful United States.
We were spending one day in San Francisco sightseeing.
The sea lions at Pier 39 was the most exciting part of our trip. We hope they are going to be alright.

I can distinctly remember a few days before the October 17, 1989 'World Series' Earthquake the sea lions went elsewhere. Take this dissappearence of the sea lions very seriously people. Especially if in the comming days your own pets and the local birds and animals you observe are behaving differently or unusually.


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