Friday, May 21, 2010

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

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