Steveston Harbor authorities are hoping that the viral video of a sea lion grabbing and pulling a young girl into the water can serve as a PSA to families to not feed wild animals.
The heart-stopping, two-minute video was shot by Simon Fraser University student Michael Fujiwara, who caught the incident while having coffee at the Canadian dock. Since its posting on Saturday night, the recording has received more than 7 million views on YouTube.
The sea lion attracted a lot of attention, and the girl and her family "started feeding the animal, and the sea lion started to become comfortable," Fujiwara told CNN.
In the background, you can hear Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking voices, including a woman saying "Don't feed it" a few times, and other voices saying "It's so cute." Then, when a girl hovers over the edge to get a closer look at the sea lion, the large mammal rises out of the water and lunges at her face. Luckily, he didn't quite get her. The girl and family laughs as the girl says, "It's OK."
The girl then tries to sit on the edge of the dock while someone else reaches his hand toward the sea lion. Pretty immediately after, the sea lion lunges again at the girl, this time pulling her into water by her dress. A male family member then jumps in after her and the crowd pulls them both back onto the dock safely.
Fujiwara said the family was visibly shaken by the incident and rushed away.
"I was just panicking, actually. I've never seen anything like that before. I just didn't know how to react," he said.
Since the incident, harbor authorities have posted more signs along the dock warning people not to feed the sea mammals. They also have staff regularly patrol the area to deliver verbal warnings.
"It's an unfortunate incident, first and foremost. I hope the little girl's OK," said Bob Baziuk, general manager of the Steveston Harbour Authority. "But we've been trying to get that message out for years and years: Don't feed the animals. You're just asking for trouble when you do that."
National Geographic reports that the sea lion, which is most likely a California sea lion native to British Columbia, can grow to more than 7 feet long and weigh up to 860 pounds. It generally prefers small food, like fish, squid and shellfish. This sea lion probably wasn't jumping on the dock to eat the child, but in hopes of getting more food. Feeding animals can have long-term impacts and teach them to equate humans with free food.
"You wouldn't go up to a grizzly bear in the bush and hand him a ham sandwich, so you shouldn't be handing a thousand-pound wild mammal in the water slices of bread," Robert Kiesman, chair of the Steveston Harbour Authority, told CBC. "You can only spend so much time protecting people from their reckless behavior. We've now seen an example of why it's illegal to do this and why it's dangerous and frankly stupid to do this."
Sea lion bites can also cause very serious infections that may lead to amputation or death.
“Seals and sea lions can carry some pretty nasty bacteria in their mouth,” Danielle Hyson, a senior marine mammal trainer at the Vancouver Aquarium, told Vancouver Sun. “There is a specific course of antibiotics. Our vet has a recommended treatment. Call us and we’ll give you an explanation to take to your doctor.”
If the child had any sort of puncture or broken skin, the Vancouver Aquarium is encouraging the family to get in touch with them in case of infection.