Sea Lion Steals Fish Along Sacramento River

California sea lion swims along Sacramento River

Much to the delight of onlookers and the chagrin of fishermen, a lone male Californian sea lion spent its day frolicking in the sun, making waves, and snatching fish from fishermen’s lines yesterday afternoon. Anchored just below the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers at Discovery Park, a small armada of fishermen braved the hot sun and occasional boat wake as they reeled in shad before the sea lion made his rounds near their boats. The sea lion returned again and again to one small boat, causing one antagonized fisherman to hit the water near the sea lion with his net in a vain attempt to scare the playful mammal off. Doreen Gurrola, a Marine Science Instructor at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito identified this river antagonist as a large adult male California sea lion. Gurrola explained it can be identified as a sea lion by the ear flaps and longer flippers, and as a male by the bump, or sagittal crest, on the head. Males can reach up to 860 pounds and 7 feet in length. While the California sea lion’s habit range from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, all the way down to Baja California, Mexico, this particular mammal was most likely following the massive amount of fish traveling upstream through the Delta and Sacramento river. It is estimated the current population of California sea lions is 238,000. While protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the California sea lion is currently classified as a low risk or least concern on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. While uncommon, sea lions have been reported to travel upwards of 200 miles inland in fresh water, following and feeding on salmon and other fish. In 2004, one sea lion was found on a farm road, nearly half of a mile from the nearest water source (SF Chronicle). In 2009, nearly 1400 California sea lions were admitted into The Marine Mammal Center. Some of the common reasons for admission included malnutrition (underweight), entanglement in debris or fishing gear, gunshots, and other wounds. The California sea lion is a playful animal and is busy hunting for his or her own meal.  These wonderful creatures are unaware they are competing with humans for food.  So when you encounter one on the Sacramento River or Delta, please enjoy being in his or her presence and marvel at their beauty and resourcefulness.  Do not look at them as competitors.  There are plenty of fish in the river for all the enjoy.

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  • Let’s not forget that these animals have probably been coming up the Sacramento for hundreds or thousands of years to feed on the salmon migrating to their spawning spots. Now that we have practically destroyed the salmon spawns, these animals have far less food. It’s us who invaded on their territory, and we need to be tolerant until we can properly manage the salmon spawns. Things have been improving, this year being one of the best migrations in the past decade. But until we build more fish ladders and/or get rid of some of the damns, this is the price we are going to have to pay. The best we can do is relocate these animals, but they will return.

    Sadly, I hear MANY fisherman talk of destroying these animals. As a fellow fisherman, it saddens me to see the lack of respect for animals.

  • The Fisherman

    TJ you think they cant find salmon and other fish in the oceans? That they need to come into the river system up to two hundred miles inland to catch every catfish, striper or sturgeon they can get their mouths on only to eat the tail end of the fish and leave the rest of it bobing on the surface still alive trying to swim? It seems that they are over populated and are not worried about finding food and are just expanding and taking advantage of fisherman by targeting boats to steal the fish along side of the boat.