You know, maybe it’s because they’re so damn cute, but I personally don’t tend to think of seals and sea lions as wild animals, which, as any marine biologist will tell you, is probably very stupid. I think it’s because they seem so friendly, playful, and doglike, but in my mind they’re more or less just swimming canines with flippers and a bit of extra blubber.
In fact, one of my all time favourite YouTube videos is of a labrador and a seal meeting each other on a beach and becoming friends. It’s so sweet that you forget that seal lions can also tear penguins limb from limb, and even attack humans if provoked.
Like most intelligent mammals, seal lions and seals are more than capable of exhibiting wildly divergent personalities depending on the context and situation. Although attacks on human beings are rare, there are extreme risks when people get too close. These occur during mating season, when hormonal males become more aggressive. When pinnipeds feel that they are being cornered by divers intruding on their territory, it’s not unknown for them to bite in defence.
Recently, a video showing a young child being bitten by the hem of her dress and pulled into the sea by a sea lion received a lot of attention online, and many internet users seemed shocked to discover that the animals aren’t just harmless pranksters, but wild and unpredictable animals. The girl was rescued immediately, but now it seems that her injuries are more severe than first thought.
The incident in question took place in Steveston’s Dock in Richmond, Canada, when a male Californian sea lion bit the little girl by the dress and dragged her into the water. She was quickly rescued by her grandfather, but not before the animal’s bite managed to break her skin, giving her a 10cm wound.
“There was somebody beside them that was trying to feed them,” stated the girl’s father, who would not reveal his daughter’s name but who gave his surname as “Lau.” Mr Lau admitted his daughter had gotten too close to the seal lion, and said: “That’s a lesson she took and she has taken that lesson in a hard way.”
However, the Vancouver Aquarium has stated that the Lau family has become concerned that the little girl may have contracted an infection known as seal finger through the bite. Aquarium spokeswoman Deana Lancaster stated “The family saw media reports in which our marine mammal trainer recommended they call us, and they did get in touch. There was no information given or provided that she had an infection.”
Seal finger, also known as sealer’s finger, is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of seals or sea lions, which can cause cellulitis, joint inflammation, and swelling of the bone marrow.