Swimmers and sea lions in SF Bay turf war

September 17, 2009 9:47:29 PM PDT
Only in San Francisco, near Fisherman's Wharf, can some of the world's largest and smelliest nuisances, also serve as a major tourist attraction.

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"Well I know they aren't cute, but in a different way, they are cute," one tourist said.

And now, the sea lions are creating a not-so-cute controversy, due to increasing close encounters with swimmers in Aquatic Park.

Earlier this week, a large group of swimmers from the Dolphin Club complained to the Port of San Francisco about sea lions becoming aggressive hazards to navigation.

"They come up and bark at you, but they have stickers on their flippers, and so they will scratch you," Dolphin Club member Lou Marcelli said.

The sea lions have expanded their territory this year after a strong breeding season. They are following and feeding in more anchovies than usual. But the port has a contractual obligation to maintain Aquatic Park as a safe and clean recreational area.

To combat the problem, the port is considering what it calls "non-lethal deterrence" as an option. They would use underwater explosives and shoot rubber buckshot at the sea lions.

"We are going to do whatever the federal government tells us to do with proper protocols, and nothing more," a port spokesperson said.

It may include talking to Oregon fisherman Mark Lottis, who handled a similar problem in Gold River. There, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a plan that put rails on dock, used the explosives and buckshot.

Among San Franciscans, that sounds like rough treatment for the wharf's mascot. Even some Dolphin Club members are unsure about the proposed solution.

"It would destroy us; make us look like a bunch of idiots," Dolphin Club member Steve Sanciamino said.

In the meantime, the water in San Francisco Bay remains crowded.

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