Friday, January 15, 2010

Pier 39 Sea Lion Party Postponed!

How do you hold a party without the guests of honour?

Even more so, how do you celebrate when an expected 1,700 guests of honour have almost all decided to give the party a miss?

That was the question facing Pier 39 and the Marine Mammal Center who were due to be rolling out the flags today and tomorrow to mark the 20th anniversary of the sea lions' arrival at Fisherman's Wharf.

The sea lions 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.

Party organizers made an initial decision to 'carry on regardless' and celebrate with the few sea lions who have decided that waters aren't blue-er on the other side of the ocean, but now, instead, they have voted to postpone and wait for their barking buddies to return.

'The 20th anniversary of the sea lions’ arrival to Pier 39 is a pivotal one so Pier 39 and The Marine Mammal Center want to make sure that the “guests of honor” are in attendance. We’ve decided to hold a bigger celebration of their mass return a little later this year for all to enjoy,' says Pier 39's press release.

However, Pier 39 and the center have not abandoned their party plans outright. Over today, Friday, Jan 15, and tomorrow, Saturday, Jan 16, docents from the center will be there at K-dock from 11 am until 4 pm, says Sue Muzzin,  Director of Public Relations & Advertising, 'to inform the public about the sea lions and their recent atypical behavior.'

The sea lions' pattern of behaviour this year has been a mystery, swinging from record highs in the fall down to a handful following Thanksgiving.

'Why so many descended on the Pier this year - some 1,701 to be exact – and why so many left all at once, is a mystery, but may certainly have something to do with shifting food sources in the SF Bay,' say Pier 39.

There are reports that hundreds of them have swum north to Sea Lion Caves in Oregon in quest of anchovies. The sea lions normally feed on herring and squid in San Francisco's Bay, and it is known that the herring supply is low this year. Sited 500 miles up the coast, the caves are another tourist attraction.

USA today quotes Kim Raum-Suryan, a biologist at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, saying that numbers of California sea lions 'had doubled to some 5,000 in December and, like other scientists, figures the simple answer is food.'

'My gut feeling is it has something to do with the (ocean warming) El Nino conditions off California, which is driving prey and sea lions up north,' she is reported to have said.

What she cannot say is how many of the California sea lions there have come from Pier 39. Some sea lions are branded, but those from Fisherman's Wharf are only tagged if they have been treated by the Marine Mammal Center, based in Sausalito, or if they have been part of a scientific study.

The center are licensed to tag for specific scientific studies, but mass tagging would not be considered, said Jim Oswald, spokesman for the center.

'They are healthy, wild animals. It would not be feasible and would be disruptive for them,' he said.

A history of the arrival of the sea lions at Pier 39:

USA Today:

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