Friday, May 21, 2010

Sea Lions of Fisherman's Wharf Celebrate 20th Anniversary and Welcome Home Party!

The most popular question the public ask about the sea lions is, 'what do you feed them?' said Ann Bower at the Welcome Home and 20th Anniversary party at Pier 39 today.

Of course, the answer is that the sea lions feed themselves! she said. Ann is Director of Education at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, and has been working with Pier 39 ever since the sea lions arrived.
(pic left, with Kathy Paver, Marketing Senior Vice-President with Pier 39)

Another often-asked question is, what caused the sea lions to pick this particular spot, and what causes them to stay?

'No-one's asked them, they haven't told us!' said Ann, but she would offer three answers: the dock is comfortable with floats laid down, sheltered by a harbour wall, and they don't have to swim far for their food.

She was there this morning with other members of the center including Executive Director Jeff Boehm, members of Pier 39, Harbourmaster Sheila Chandor, and staff of Aquarium of the Bay. All were there to share the celebrations of the return of the sea lions and their 20th anniversary with several hundred members of the public.

Alongside, about 200 sea lions paticipated noisily as free hats, Coca Cola and Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water were handed out, along with pieces of a lavish party cake and chocolate cup cakes.

Why are the sea lions so endearingly popular? she was asked by Jan, a freelance radio journalist. 'Because people see something of themselves in them,' she said, adding that she thinks people 'just like big mammals,' evidenced also by the popularity of whales and elephants.

How would she describe sea lions? 'Gregarious, boisterous, enjoying being next to each other...fat and sassy!'

When it comes to being next to each other, anyone who has stood on the pier and watched is struck by not just by 'next to each other' but 'on top of each other!' Yesterday, there were empty rafts galore because of the mass exodus last fall, so the sea lions could each have commanded their own territory, but there they were, stashed and heaped as ever on a few rafts.

'Sack of potatoes,' said Ann. The secret lies in the word 'thigmotactic' - 'you've got to have a lot of letters to get it in scrabble!' The first part, 'thigmo' stems from Greek and means 'to touch'. The second part means 'movement' or 'arranging in order.'

Sea lions are not happy bunnies?!!! unless they touch each other as they flip flop and snoooze, bask and play.

Mostly!  It was noticeable that when the band struck up their equally boisterous tunes, trumpeting and oompahing and drumming out songs like 'Popeye the Sailor Man!' from the top of the pier, that the sea lions responded.

Was it imagination, or did the sea lions really sway, and they did seem particularly lively. Were they catching an air of excitement and responding?

They were not used to the music, said Ann, and were making some response to an unfamiliar sound, but generally more excited? This made her chuckle. There was another reason! Breeding season is approaching, the time when every full-blooded, testosterone-packed male readies himself. Soon, they will migrate south to the Channel Islands, off the south coast of California, and conquer - leaving only 'young juveniles or old boys too tired to care!' Kathy Paver added in her interview. (previous blog)

Which comes back to the touching. Stolid, and proud and alone sat a bruiser of a black sea lion who had elicited squeals of delight from a group of schoolchildren as another sea lion attempted to scramble onto his empty float, and was knocked back into the sea. Some 800 lbs of solid sea lion practising marking out his territory in readiness for a summer of love.

Also there in the colony were small sea lions, but they were not pups, said Ann, rather one-year-olds and maybe some two-year-olds.

And there is always a question about the difference between sea lions and seals:  sea lions have little brown ear-flaps and long, front flippers.

Sea lions are migratory creatures, but the extent of last year's ebb and flow took even the Marine Mammal Center and Pier 39 staff by surprise, said Jeff Boehm, Executive Director of the center. The animals are  'opportunistic feeders'  he said, and 'clearly something changed' but they could not be sure of the whole picture.

Jeff has been quoted in the media as saying that anchovies and sardines attracted a record-sized herd of 1,701 to haul out in K-Dock last October, and that low herring supplies caused an equally dramatic exodus after Thanksgiving. But yesterday, he said while these were factors, it was not necessarily the whole answer.

Many of the sea lions swum north to the Sea Lion Caves in Oregon. Could their return here be linked to overcrowding there? It was possible, he said. Sea lions are dynamic and will simply find food.

After cutting the anniversary cake, Jeff was thrilled with the party and seeing, he said, the excitement that people had being around wild animals. Pier 39 was a 'significant urban center' and also offered a 'significant opportunity' to encourage people to care about animals and the environment, he also said.

Visiting the city for a few days from Tampa, Florida, were friends Richard and Jan. 'We just came to look at the sea lions. We had no clue about party cake!' said Jan. This was her first trip to the city, and Richard's, the first for 20 years.

'I think they're great!' said Jan, of the sea lions.

Sitting on the pier was Shari with her five-year-old son, Miles.

'I've been keeping up with them. I grew up in San Francisco, and it's good to see them back,' she said.

Shari remembers their arrival, three months after the Loma Prieta earthquake in October, 1989. She also remembers the day of the quake. She was on her way upstairs when the house shook, and her aunt had crossed the Bay Bridge from Oakland just minutes before a section of it collapsed.

Miles, too, was excited with the sea lions and their party.

Had he known there was a party? 'Yes!'

Did he like the sea lions? 'Yes!'

Did he like the cake? 'Yes!'

It was a positive day all round!

Entertainment continued on the pier with traditonal fun with Scott, one of their street performers, and Salty. New to the scene with a digital twist was Prasant Mohapatra, Co-Founder of Mapiz, a free 'app' with a 'Save the Sea Lions' game.

Players save the sea lions from dangers ranging from environmental to killer whales and sharks, and each day at 9 pm a winner is awarded two free tickets for rides on the Rocket Boat in the bay.

The start-up company provides location-based gaming, and Pier 39 are only their third customer. also sends out 'near casts' - info to people in close range letting them know, for example, that a party is happening on Pier 39!

Pier 39 Celebrates Return of Missing Sea Lions and 20th Anniversary of Their Arrival

It was a party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the sea lions' arrival at Pier 39 - and this time the guests of honour did show up!

Around 200 sea lions put in a lively, boisterous appearance as a band struck up on the pier and fellow guests donned party hats, munched birthday cake and cup cakes, and partied.

 The centre party piece was a cake artistically decorated with a seal on top. Cutting the cake marked the start of celebrations at 11 am, the honour falling to Kathy Paver, Marketing Senior Vice-President of Pier 39, and Jeff Boehm, Executive Director of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, with a little help from Salty.

Kathy said she was 'absolutely thrilled' at the party. 'We had to postpone because we had none of our friends here!' she said.

The party had been due to be held in January, marking the month in 1990 when the sea lions began to cluster in K-dock, but after reaching record numbers last fall, the animals suddenly disappeared leaving only a handful of stalwarts.

Pier 39 were waiting for between 100 and 200 to return before they held the party. Slowly, over the last few weeks there has been a stable increase in numbers and so today also became a Welcome Home party.

The 'favourite of tourists and residents alike' are back. 'Everybody's happy!' said Kathy.

No-one knows the history of the sea lions better than her for she has been there from the beginning when they put in their first unexpected appearance in K-Dock. And it wasn't easy! Kathy was a shopping center developer, in post at the pier for less than two years. Suddenly she was carer for a small colony of barking, boisterous sea lions, a role that hadn't been included in her job description!

'There was a whole group of us that didn't know what to do!' she said. 

At first, the number of sea lions was small. 'We had a few, then a few more,' she said. Soon, numbers rose to between three-and-four hundred, the sea lions having swum around the curve of the coastline and into the bay. They were relocating from Seal Rocks, below Cliff House at the north end of Ocean Beach.

She rang the Marine Mammal Center across the bay in Sausalito, and credits Ann Bower, Director of Education, with a lot of the success of the sea lions' residency. Also Sheila Chandor, Harbourmaster, both of whom were guests at the party today.

Kathy discovered that the sea lions were a protected species and, next, that their arrival attracted a lot of media attention. K-Dock at that time had both local boats moored there and a guest docking area, and the boats were having trouble navigating around the new arrivals.

'We really just decided, "Well okay! You win!"'' she said. They found moorings for the boats elsewhere and created a protective environment within a far more unusual urban setting.

'I remember walking in high heels down the dock and thinking "I'm out of my mind!"'

Gradually, with experience, other safety issues were added. Entry to the dock was closed to the public and journalists no longer interviewed on the dock. Part of the success story is that over the 20 years there have been no accidents to either the sea lions or people, she said.

pics also by Simon

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pier 39 Sea Lions' Welcome Home and 20th Anniversary Party

Commemorative party hats, free cup cakes, coca cola and alpine spring water are being given out at Pier 39 tomorrow as part of the sea lions' party.

The guests of honour won't be participating in the party food or wearing the hats, but hundreds of people will be eating, drinking and celebrating in their honour.

The Pier 39 party is both a postponed celebration of the 20th anniversary since the sea lions took up residence at the pier, and a welcome home party!

The party had been planned for January, on the anniversary of the sea lions' arrival at the pier in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. But after reaching record numbers of 1,701 in October last year, they mysteriously disappeared, to be discovered in Oregon.

However, over the last month, to the delight of Pier 39 staff and tourists, up to 300 have returned.

And so the party is on!

Naturalists from The Marine Mammal Center and Aquarium of the Bay will be there to talk about the sea lions. Drinks are being given by Coca Cola and Crystal Geyser, and all party gifts are available while supplies last.

The party begins at 11 am and continues until 2 pm.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

San Francisco's Emergency Services Train for Water-based Terrorist Attack

San Francisco's emergency services held a major training exercise this morning to help protect the city against a water-based terrorist attack.

The exercise involved two sea lions and a dolphin from the US Navy Marine Mammal Program who are trained to detect underwater mines and intruder divers.

Their venue, McCovey Cove behind the  Giants' AT & T baseball park, where 42,940 fans had packed into the stadium on the opening day of the season.

Any large gathering place in the US, especially a sports stadium, is a potential target, said an informed bystander who wished to remain anonymous.

It has taken about a year to prepare for the exercise, which is held once every five years and is part of a wider state drill, including at the port of Oakland across the bay.

The planning itself has proved crucial as it has given the emergency services opportunity to think of new ways in how the city might be attacked.

'There are over 50 specific things we identified to be lacking, so that alone makes this a success,'  continued the bystander.

Training for today was based around the question, 'What would you do if.........? We have been thinking "outside of the box",' he said.

'We know there are all sorts of places we don't want to think about. It's important to look at everything we can.'

The emergency services are not complacent, however. The result of the year-long process and today's practice 'may not be an A-plus but a passing grade,' he said, but without the exercise there is 'maybe something we wouldn't have done.'

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sea Lions of Pier 39 Are Back and Postponed 20th Anniversary Party to be Held in Their Honour

They're back! The missing sea lions of Pier 39 have been returning to their floats over the last four weeks, and in their honour a postponed 20th anniversary party is to be held next Friday.

From pups to the big and bulbous, somnabulent, and the comical 'don't mind me!' clumsy clamberers, the beloved barking residents of K-dock are back delighting the public.

'We're so happy, it's great to have our sea lions back. We always knew they'd come back!' said Sue Muzzin, Director of Public Relations & Advertising.

The sea lions have been returning in higher numbers over the last four weeks. 'We've probably seen about 150 to 300,' Sue said today. Details of the planned party are to be released soon.

The famous California sea lions are a major tourist attraction and have been bringing prosperity to Pier 39 for 20 years.

Their numbers had risen to record highs of 1,585 in September, and 1,701 in October. And then, just as suddenly, they vanished almost overnight, their numbers dwindling to a handful.

Their migration was thought to be due to food supplies, their increase because of anchovies and their disappearance a result of a low herring  supply in the bay this winter. Many of the sea lions swum north to the Sea Lion Caves in Oregon.

Their return is thought also to be linked to food sources.

A party in January to mark the 20th anniversary of their arrival was mostly postponed. Instead of the planned celebration, a much smaller event was held. Docents from the Marine Mammal Center met with the public at the pier to talk about the sea lions.

The animals started to congregate there in January 1990, just weeks after the October, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake. There were between 10 - 50 at first, but by March of that year numbers had risen to over 300.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Kaiwo Maru Leaves San Francisco After Commemoration of 150th Anniversary of First Japanese Vessel to Visit City and First Japanese Embassy to Visit America

Carrying over 400 goodwill messages from children in San Francisco to children in Japan, the captain and crew of the Kaiwo Maru sailed out of the bay this afternoon.

Several hundred people gathered on Pier 27 for a closing ceremony that marked the end of a commemorative visit celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first Japanese vessel to sail to the city, and the first visit of a Japanese embassy to America.

A member of the Japanese parliament, Mr
Taro Kono, flew into the city this morning to attend the ceremony, and a symposium on the anniversary that is taking place tomorrow.

He described the anniversary as 'a very good bridge between Japan and the US' and said he hoped the Japanese community in California would continue to be a bridge between the two countries.
(pic of Mr Kono in blue cap with Mr Steve Matsuura, Co-Chair of the anniversary committee, as they watch the ship depart)

Over 2,000 people toured the ship yesterday and saw a poster exhibition, Captain Makoto Inui said. On behalf of his crew and cadets, he said, 'We will
never forget such a warm-hearted hospitality....I don't say "goodbye", I say, "See you!"'

San Francisco's Consul General of Japan, Yasumasa Nagamine, said, 'This has been an extraordinary, magnificent five days.' Stretched before him on the pier wall was art work from schoolchildren in the city, and Japanese drummers, Maikaze Daiko, had earlier fascinated the crowd with an energetic performance.

Without the visit of the Kanrin Maru in 1860 and the accompanying delegation of Japanese ambassadors, San Francisco's Japantown 'would probably not have existed,' it was said during the ceremony. Part of the purpose of the commemoration was to deepen the friendship between the two countries.

Cultural events have been held, the city welcomed the arrival of the Kaiwo Maru on Friday with a presentation of a plaque and photo, and receptions have been held on board the ship and in the Consulate of Japan. Hundreds of schoolchildren have also been involved and had entered an art competition, which focussed on the anniversary, and friendship between Japan and the US.

The Kaiwo Maru is a four-masted, 361 ft training ship. Her visit commemorated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Kanrin Maru on March 17, 1860, and travelling as a passenger on board was a descendant of the orignal crew.

Acting as escort for three Japanese ambassadors on board the USS Powhatan in 1860, the battered ship arrived three days ahead of the US Navy ship that had had to stop for repairs in Hawaii.

The ambassadors travelled on to Washington and ratified the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with President James Buchanan.

The visit of the Kaiwo Maru, said the Consul General, would be remembered for many years and had been 'one of the best highlights of this commemorative year.' The crew, he added, had had fun in the city playing basketball and dancing. (pic of the Consul General presenting an art award)

Co-Chair of the anniversary committee, Mr Allen Okamoto, told Captain Inui, 'Your ship is absolutely special, your crew is a delight, and you have an open invitation to return to San Francisco anytime.'

The art competition involved drawings, paintings and posters depicting the Kanrin Maru, the Kaiwo Maru and the ocean. Winners of the Consul General Award and the Captain's Award were presented with certificates.

 A winner of both awards, for a delicate pencil sketch of the Kaiwo Maru with the Bay Bridge in the background, was 15-year-old Fumi.

'I think it's a really good thing that the US and Japan are really good friends and not having a war. We were having a war but now we're friends,' said Fumi, who will be taking an art class next year.

The ship sailed about 4 pm, her crew skimming up the ropes to stand on the rigging for a final goodbye as two American Navy tugs pulled her gently from the dockside. Then, with red and white flag streaming from behind, and the crew scrambling back onto the deck, she was escorted out of the bay by the tugs and a Coast Guard boat.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

150th Anniversary of First Japanese Vessel to Visit San Francisco and First Japanese Embassy to America

A tall-masted Japanese sailing ship, the Kaiwo Maru, came into the bay today to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the visit of both the first official Japanese vessel to San Francisco and the first Japanese embassy to America. (pic by Chris)

In 1860, the Kanrin Maru escorted three ambassadors, who were aboard a US naval ship, arriving battered from severe storms on March 17. 

It was the beginning of a historic visit that sealed a new friendship and trade treaty between the two countries.

And it also gave the captain his first taste of ice-cream!

San Francisco today is home to a thriving Japanese culture and has the largest and oldest Japantown in the USA. 

This morning the Kaiwo Maru docked at Pier 27 and will be here until Sunday, with an open-day and exhibition for the public on Saturday.

'This is most important for us,' said Captain Makoto Inui, early this evening as he welcomed people on board for a reception.

Later, during a brief reception speech, he said that he hoped the visit would 'promote more and more friendship' between the USA and Japan.

And he was delighted, he said, pointing upwards, to be in San Francisco and to hold a party under such a 'sunny, beautiful blue sky!'

When the Kaiwo Maru docked this morning, the Captain and crew were officially welcomed on the dockside at 10 am by a city representative and leaders of the Japanese community. A commemorative plaque and photo of the city were presented on behalf of Mayor Gavin Newsom, and the Cherry Blossom Queen gave a bouquet.

This evening among the guests were the Consul General of Japan, Yasumasa Nagamine, the Executive Committee of the 150th Anniversary of the First Japanese Vessel to San Francisco, and members of local Japanese associations.

Among the 171 people sailing with the ship are direct descendants of the original crew in 1860, including Mr Yoshiharu Masai who is sailing as a passenger.

Mr Masai said that he was very happy to be standing where his family had once stood.

A member of The Society of the Kanrin-Maru Crew Descendants, he said that they had found 400 families with historical connections to the 96 crew members, although only 12 had joined the society.

Tracing people through family trees had been difficult, he said, speaking mostly through Masashi Sugawara, Junior Third Officer, who acted as interpreter - pictured

During his stay he will be meeting some families in San Francisco.

The visit of the Kaiwo Maru has been something of a coup for the Japanese community, and marks the first of about 40 commemorative events being held around the Bay Area this year.

Mr Isao 'Steve' Matsuura, Co-Chair of the anniversary committee, said the ship had originally been due to end her voyage in Hawaii. The Consul General and others had negotiated to extend the voyage, which has been paid for from San Francisco.

'But we are successful. It is here today, it has met our goals. We are very happy!' he said.

The four-masted Kaiwo Maru is four times bigger than her historical counterpart, he said. The Kanrin Maru was 'wrecked' when she arrived in the city after her non-stop five-week voyage and spent two months in a shipyard for repairs.

She arrived three days ahead of the ambassadors in the USS Powhatan as that ship had to put in for repairs in Hawaii.

However, it gave the crew a chance to spend two months walking around the city. Captain Katsu Rintaro had made an entry in his diary that he had seen ice-cream for the first time - and he liked it very much! said Steve Matsuura.

On that visit, the ship had been formally welcomed with an opening ceremony and the presentation of a plaque on Pier 9.

A closing ceremony for the Kaiwo Maru will be held on Sunday at Pier 27, beginning with cultural events for an hour at 1.30 pm, before the ceremony takes place. Then the Kaiwo Maru, a training ship of the Institute of Maritime Training in Japan, will sail again out of the bay. However, the ship sailed in under engine power and will also depart that way, leaving her sails furled.

Among the other events this year are a joint Tea Ceremony of the three Japanese schools in the Bay Area, to be held in the Asian Art Museum on May 15; a three-day international visit of 200 Japanese people who will live in American homes, part of a grassroots celebration between August 24 - 30; and a Grand Finale of 1,000 world-renowned, Japanese drummers, though mostly from the Bay Area, and led by Kitaro who is writing new music for the occasion.