San Fran's Pier 39 Sea Lions return
|San Francisco's Pier 39 sea lions have returned!/|
Copyright (c) Shelly Plante
They're back! Last year, I blogged about how San Francisco's famous Pier 39 sea lions mysteriously disappeared not long after Thanksgiving. Over the past twenty years, their numbers would rise and fall, but some individual sea lions inevitably stayed behind even if most of them left. But last year they all vanished and no one knew where they went, or why they left. The sea lions have always been a popular tourist attraction for those strolling through the streets of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. People would read about them in tour guides as far as Asia and Australia, and come here just to see them.
Sea lion watchers breathed a collective sigh of relief as they started trickling back last week. A handful came ashore as early as February, but as of last Wednesday, 284 California sea lions had hauled up onto Pier 39, according to Sue Muzzin, Director of PR for Pier 39. More keep coming.
The returning sea lions have not provided any clues as to their whereabouts during their absence. But while the Pier 39 sea lions were gone, some people spotted a group of these darker brown California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) mixing in with the golden brown northern stellar sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) along the Oregon coast. It's impossible to know whether they were the same individuals because they are not tagged in any way.
Perhaps the sea lions returned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of being at Pier 39. The year they first arrived, 1990, had a very good run of herring which the sea lions dine on. So scientists suspected that they left the region following a food source. Or they may have left because of a predator. And no one knows how long they will stay, or whether the winter evacuation will become a regular occurence.
Regardless of the reason, people were so excited that they held a party, complete with cupcakes and party hats shaped like sea lions. There's even a Pier 39 web cam! To celebrate the sea lions 20th anniversary, MAPIZ developed a Save the Sea Lions iphone app. The daily game winner gets a pair of tickets to a high-speed thrill ride in San Francisco Bay, RocketBoat. I have visited Pier 39 before, and hope to get back again in two weeks during my layover en route to Alaska's Aleutian Island Chain, where I'll be on board the R/V Thomas G. Thompson with a group of scientists studying the impact of climate change on the Bering Sea ecosystem.