Days later, sea lion encounter still talk of wharf


RICHMOND, B.C. – Jocelyne Dramisino says she made her little cousin watch a hair-raising online video before taking her to a Vancouver-area wharf on Tuesday where days earlier a sea lion yanked a young girl off the dock and into the water.

“I wanted … to make sure that she was a little bit smarter than other people have been in the past so that that would not happen to her,” Dramisino said during a visit to Steveston Harbour in Richmond.

The video shows a young girl leaning over the edge of a dock, giggling at an adult male California sea lion swimming less than a metre away. The girl sits down on the guard rail before the animal grabs her dress and pulls her backwards into the water. A man jumps in and lifts her to safety.

A spokeswoman for the Vancouver Aquarium said in an email that the girl’s family contacted the facility and is getting the appropriate medical treatment after she received a superficial injury.

Dramisino said she would still bring visiting friends and family to the harbour, but it’s important to keep a distance from wild animals.

“They are not our cats and dogs that we have at home,” said Dramisino, who lives in North Vancouver. “Although they do seem friendly and they look cute, they are wild animals, and they are more vicious than you probably would tend to think.”

The sea lion appears to have been drawn to the dock on Saturday by adults who were reportedly throwing bread crumbs into the water.

In an interview with the CBC, the father of the girl pulled into the water denied that anyone in the family was feeding the animal. Identified only by the family’s surname, he said his daughter was too close to the sea lion and that she learned her lesson the hard way.

Since the incident, the Steveston Harbour Authority has plastered the dock with warning signs telling people not to feed the wildlife and to be careful around the water’s edge.

A Fisheries and Oceans Canada note warns that people found disturbing a marine mammal can faces fines of up to $100,000.

A local resident at the wharf on Tuesday chastised a family as they posed for a photo directly beside a warning sign, sitting with a small boy in a similar position as the girl who was pulled into the water.

“Excuse me. Do you know the kind of danger you’re putting that child in?” Smokey Attwood asked.

Attwood, an English expatriate who has been living in the area for the past decade, said watching the video “made me bloody furious.”

“This is a thousand-pound wild animal. If it sees food it will go for it.”

Donald Walker and his wife Shirley visit the docks about once a week and said the crowds were much larger than usual in the two days after the sea lion pulled the girl into the water, adding that many of the warning signs are new.

It’s impossible to stop the public from feeding the animals, especially if the harbour authority doesn’t impose any fines, Walker said.

“It’s a mistake to feed them. We’ve all been told, over and over again. We’ve seen it on TV and radio: Don’t feed them,” he said. “The sea lion isn’t the problem. It’s the people who have created the problem.”

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