History of Sea Lions at PIER 39
Shortly after the earthquake hit San Francisco in October 1989 a few California sea lions began “hauling out” at PIER 39’s K-Dock. By January 1990, an especially good year for herring, droves of boisterous, barking sea lions completely took over K-Dock. This takeover exasperated PIER 39’s Marina tenants who had to navigate around large, sunbathing yet wary sea lions to reach their boats. The Marina staff turned to The Marine Mammal Center, a local rescue and rehabilitation hospital, for advice about their new, noisy tenants. Since sea lions are protected by the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, The Marine Mammal Center recommended that no action be taken to disturb the sea lions. They gave advice and training on techniques to move more safely on the docks; after all, this was likely a temporary phenomenon.
The sea lions’ antics delighted the public. International news about the aftermath of the earthquake gave way to news about “slippery sea lions lounging on a dock of the Bay” and the tourists returned to PIER 39. The number of sea lions grew to a rollicking 400 animals by March 1990, the boats were permanently moved and the sea lions have never left.
The sea lions use K-Dock as a haven and a place to rest or “haul out.” The jetty protects K-Dock from strong wave surges, the dock floats on the waves and is never covered at high tide like other rocky haul outs. The convenient location near the Bay entrance provides the sea lions easy access to the ocean to feed on schooling fish like anchovies and herring. And, the shallow, less salty Bay waters provide some protection from predators like white sharks. The number of sea lions fluctuates during the year, influenced by the sea lions’ life cycle and the abundance of prey fish outside the Golden Gate and in the Bay. In November 2009, an all-time record of 1,701 sea lions was counted at K-Dock!
PIER 39’s Marina staff has learned to live with these wild tenants. Long ago, the original dock was removed and replaced with rectangular floats that hold more weight and last longer. Staff routinely clean the floats with bay water, discourage healthy sea lions that haul out on neighboring docks, identify sick and injured sea lions and assist in rescue operations.
The sea lions feel safe at K-Dock, even though people are close. This great vantage point allows us a glimpse into their lives. As we enjoy the sea lions’ interactions, hear their playful barks, and feel the fresh ocean breeze, we have a greater sense of their connection (and ours) to the San Francisco Bay-Delta and Pacific Ocean.