Pier 39 marks the 29th anniversary since sea lions' arrival Kimberly Mitchell: Staff Writer and Photographer

From the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz Island and Lombard Street, San Francisco is a city that attracts many for its beauty and diverse culture. However, when it comes to the seafood, Pier 39 is one of the top choices for both humans and the City’s favorite pinnipeds — the sea lions.

This January marks the 29th anniversary of the sea lion’s arrival to the Bay and to celebrate nearly three decades of barking, the Aquarium of the Bay held free walking tours this weekend. Led by interpretive specialists such as Hannah Plett, visitors learned more about the blubbery pinnipeds.

Plett explained that in the months following the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, sea lions began appearing in Pier 39’s Marina as they realized that the Bay has “no predators and is extremely abundant in sea life."

However, while the sea lions were enjoying their stay at the docks — as the shallow water protected them from large predators such as sharks and orcas — the dock’s original tenants were aggravated by the massive mammals.

“When the sea lions first arrived, there were a lot of complaints because not only were they really loud and smelled awful, but these 800-pound sea lions blocked tenants and fishermen from accessing their boats,” Plett said.

However, with each passing month, the number of sea lions on the docks continued to swell and the city began to realize that these sea lions didn't just swim into the Bay.

They swam into their hearts as well.

So the city decided that tenants, not the sea lions, would be relocated and they built new docks for the sea lions, later known as K-Dock.

Three sea lions sleep on the dock that use to be for docking boats (right). However after the original docks were destroyed by the sheer weight of the plump pinnipeds, the city not only rebuilt new docks for the seals, but for tenants as well (left).
Between the months of July and May, anywhere from 150 to more than 600 sea lions can be found sleeping, swimming, and barking on the docks of Pier 39. According to Plett the highest number of sea lions recorded on the docks at one time was over 1,700.

Since the arrival of the sea lions, millions of tourists from all over the world have stopped to watch the "sea-celebrities."

People from of all ages, from all around the world come to visit the sea lions at Pier 39 by the millions each year.

But even among the crowd of tourists, locals such as Maria could be found throughout anniversary celebrations:

“When I heard about the anniversary, I knew that I had to go. Ever since I was a little girl, it’s been a tradition for us to come and see the sea lions and it would be sad if one day they weren’t there anymore.”

California sea lions are known to be intelligent, playful, and agile swimmers.

As they eat around 40 pounds of fish each day, these pinnipeds are opportunistic eaters, meaning that they'll eat anything they can get their flippers on.

Despite the initial complaints that arose when the sea lions arrived at Pier 39, according to Ora Zolan, an interpretive specialist of the Aquarium of the Bay, the tides have turned in the sea dogs’ favor as people began to recognize the importance of these animals.

“The sea lions are actually a really important part of the Bay’s ecosystem and they allow us to get really close to nature, which we don’t really get to do that often in a city like San Francisco,” Zoan said. “The sea lions are animals that we love here in San Francisco and we hope to stay with us forever.”

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Kimberly Mitchell


Kimberly Mitchell

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