THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

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

Most of the more than 1,500 sea lions that crowded a San Francisco pier last month has departed, perhaps to hunt food. Most of the more than 1,500 sea lions that crowded a San Francisco pier last month has departed, perhaps to hunt food. (SFCB/ Jack Hollingsworth)
Associated Press / December 30, 2009

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

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 scientists.

But now, almost all the sea lions are gone, leaving specialists 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.’’

Yesterday, 10 seals lounged and swam and dove from the docks, spreading themselves out where the animals were stacked three and four deep just a month ago. Boehm said the bulk of the herd probably followed their favorite foods: sardines and anchovies.

The animals began leaving in droves the day after Thanksgiving, almost as though 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 braced against the wind to watch them. The seals huddled together, dove off the docks, and honked and barked.