The tiny community of Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island has a very small population (something over 800 people) but I think it would be half as large again if you could count the sea lions that have taken up temporary residence there. At first it was only a stopping place for the Steller sea lions but in recent years their smaller cousins, the California sea lions, have traveled farther up the coast following the food source.
At this time of year when the herring arrive to spawn near the beaches of Vancouver Island, the sea lions have decided they like the sheltered east coast of the island. Later, many of them will move farther north and also onto the west coast of the island open to the Pacific to chase the salmon in the summer, much to the annoyance of the commercial fishermen. The last thing they want to see is a sea lion following their trolling lines, eating every fish they are lucky enough to hook before they can even think about bringing it aboard.
The photo above shows only a small fraction of the clusters of sea lions of both types that are now living here, quite close to people and boats. Some even try to get aboard.
I’m not sure I’d want to have my sailboat anchored so close to these guys. I suppose the side of the hull is high enough so they can’t climb aboard, but I wouldn’t be dangling that crab pot on the stern. Sea lions can leap up from the water high enough to make me nervous if I were aboard.
If you click to enlarge some of the photos, you may see that many of the sea lions have battle scars. The stories they could tell.
Sea lions don’t sound much like lions, but rather more like dogs — huge ferocious dogs with over a thousand pounds of weight pushing the deep vibrations out of their fat throat. “OW! OW! OW! OW!” they bark in their baritone voice. I couldn’t help wondering what they were saying.
The size difference is not always immediately apparent, but when you see the California sea lion (on the left, below) next to a Steller sea lion (the paler one on the right, below) you can easily believe that there is a difference of more than a thousand pounds between them (about 660 lbs. for the adult male California sea lion and 2200 lbs. for the adult male Steller sea lion).
They don’t seem to mind lying side by side on the breakwater, although none of them is giving up his spot, real estate being at a premium.
One thing I wondered about, is why they sit with their head thrown back. Several theories occurred to me:
- they’re just enjoying the sunshine
- they’re letting their last meal digest (since they swallow their food without much chewing)
- their head is so heavy that by putting it back over their shoulders, they don’t have to hold up the weight and strain their neck.
- they’re being snobbish
- they’re trying to escape the smell
If anyone knows the real reason, I’d love to know.
The ones who are not lucky enough to get a place on the breakwater simply raft up together nearby. They seem to be relaxed enough, floating on their backs, noses in the air for easier breathing as they doze.
A Steller sea lion in the photo below is quite content to rest his chin on the California’s backside. Cal doesn’t seem to mind. “Oh, Stella, Do that again. Yes, right there. Scratch harder. Feels so-o-o-o good!”
After a while, the uninterrupted clamour was enough to have me digging frantically in my purse for a couple of Advils. I suppose I could have done what this fellow did – book an island retreat and go for a soothing swim all alone, far from the madding crowd.