Killer sea lion nabs little girl (she’s okay)

This video of a girl being dragged into the ocean by a sea lion (and then saved by her father) has gone viral, but perhaps there are a few people who haven’t seen it. According to The Global News, the incident occurred at Steveston Wharf in Richmond, British Columbia:

The video, captured by Vancouver resident Michael Fujiwara, shows the large marine mammal slowly circling the area before it suddenly lunges from the water, nipping at the girl’s dress and pulling her into the water.

Fujiwara said he was at Steveston Wharf around 6:30 p.m. when he spotted a sea lion in the water and pulled out his cellphone.

“A young girl came around with her family and they just started to feed it bread crumbs,” he said. “They were getting a little too close to it, for sure.

“The sea lion seemed pretty friendly at first. It jumped up to the girl, gave her a little greeting, but seconds after when she tried to sit down on the dock, it just came back up … and dragged her in the water.”

As screams erupt from the crowd, a family member immediately leaps into the water, grabs the child and takes her to safety.

I’ve heard intimations that these people were feeding the sea lions before this occurred, but I can’t find a record of that. At any rate, after it took place, the Harbour Authority put up signs saying, “Do not feed the sea lions.”

Of course this made me curious about whether there was any record of a human killed by a seal or sea lion. The only thing I found were several reports of a leopard seal killing a woman scientist who was skin diving in Antarctica fourteen years ago. There are several other reports of leopard seals going after inflatable boats or other people, but nobody succumbed. As for other seals or sea lions. . . nada.

Leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx), are fearsome predators, and the adults eat penguins and other species of seals. Their canine teeth are an inch long. Here’s an epic battle between a hungry leopard seal and a group of large emperor penguins. The cinematography is amazing.  Remember, though, that pinnipeds are wild animals, and that means they’re unpredictable. Enjoy them, but keep your distance:


h/t: P.


  1. Randy schenck
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    People doing stupid things. The wild animal would like us eh? Yes, for lunch.

  2. David Duncan
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I’ve seen documentaries on Leopard Seals the photographer has always been in a sturdy steel cage.

  3. busterggi
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Could have just been playful – its obviously used to people and also not starving.

  4. Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    “I’ve heard intimations that these people were feeding the sea lions before this occurred, but I can’t find a record of that.”

    A longer version of the video was available at one time (don’t know if it still is – I saw it the other day on Liveleak). From what I saw, just before the girl was pulled in she and other people had been feeding the sea lion. As the animal swan back and forth, sometimes between a boat and the dock they also pretended to have food (making the same hand gestures and sounds when the fed the sea lion) presumably in order to encourage it to stay nearby and elicit a response.

    Not saying the girl is responsible or the people acted irresponsibly, and I am not making a value judgement at all. Just responding to Dr. Coyne’s comment.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      I had thought that maybe the sea lion was performing a bit of getting even, at least from its point of view.

    • Posted May 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      I posted the longer version on my site. Hugs

      • Posted May 22, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        In the longer version you can see them throw stuff and it land in the water, then the sea lion eat it. Hugs

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, that added a bit more to the context.

    • Shaokang Yuan
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      Disagree entirely. If she won a Darwin award, I’d laugh. “Don’t feed the animals” should be common sense or at least a basal survival instinct not lost in humans (I’m not an evolutionary psychologist, so don’t quote me on that). Sad that she has to pay though for mind-numbing adult human stupidity.

      • Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        I don’t really think there would be anything to laugh about if she had been killed.

        Even if it could be shown to be all her own fault (she is a child and, almost by definition, can’t be expected to have a full appreciation of the dangers of the World) I don’t think her family would find it something to laugh about.

        We are all guilty of stupidity at times. It shouldn’t be a capital crime.

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 10:48 pm | Permalink


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      My reading of the interaction was that the sea lion made a lunge to get out of the water as the girl in the white dress was approaching from behind the perforated barrier, which blocked both animal’s sight lines to the other. Close encounter #1, and the sea lion aborts the manoeuvre to water while the girl squeals, pirouettes, then sits on the barrier. Then the actual nip-drag-splash event.
      Interacting with wild animals which weigh anything like as much as you do is something to be thought about carefully. That’s a lesson that’s cheap at a couple of tooth-drag marks and a dousing with iodine.
      As canid-relatives, can sea lions (or for that matter, seals and walruses) carry rabies?

  5. Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Someone was definitely feeding it, you can hear a splash at the 35 second mark, and then see the sea lion grab a piece of what looks like bread.

    • Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Make that 37 second mark for the splash, and 38 seconds he’s eating the object which is still producing ripples from being tossed in the water.

    • Posted May 22, 2017 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Seal might have thought her white dress was a plastic lunch bag or something. Stealing is allowed if folks are going to tease you.

  6. Taz
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    It jumped up to the girl, gave her a little greeting

    That’s one way to interpret it, but I doubt that’s what the sea lion had in mind.

  7. Ullrich Fischere
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Do not feed sea lions your children! Should be the sign. It is good to be explicit about things like this lest there is some room for misunderstanding. 🙂 For some nuance, though, the sea lion didn’t seem to be making a sincere effort to drag her away for a lunch. An animal that big could easily have overpowered the relatively small dad. I suspect the sea lion knew that eating a human would end badly for it.

    • busterggi
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      She looked Japanese – her family probably is used to tentacles attacking randomly.

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps it thought her dress might be the wrapping of some tasty bit of food (not human-as-food!). It’s probably used to all kinds of trash in the water, some of which might contain sandwiches, etc.

      Or perhaps it’s just conditioned to grab whatever tourists seem to be offering it.

      • Taz
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        I think that’s probably the case. It let go right away. If it wanted to swim off with its “catch” it could easily have done so.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

          That was exactly my thought too. It let go very smartly. So probably its ‘bite’ of her dress was more inquisitive than premeditated.

          Now *this* one was deliberate:


          • Diane G.
            Posted May 22, 2017 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

            Ah, I remember that one! Funny! (But good thing the lion didn’t accidentally get the guy’s hand in the process…)

  8. DrBrydon
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    The waterfront is not a petting zoo.

    • busterggi
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Brando would have agreed.

  9. rickflick
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    People in general are not likely to understand the risk in a situation like this. There’s a lot of room for confusion. I think having some warning signs would be a prudent move. If they waited for this incident to put up the signs, it’s too late. So who owns the dock and the access and why are there people there? Who should have known about the risk? So many questions.

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      “People in general are not likely to understand the risk in a situation like this.”

      Especially if they’ve been conditioned by places like Sea World to think of cetaceans and pinnipeds as just fun-loving performers.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        Now, had it been a shark (which are considerably less likely to leap out of the water after ‘food’) everyone would have been carefully keeping back from the edge of the wharf…


        • Diane G.
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

          So true.

  10. Posted May 22, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Then there’s the reverse situation …

    • Posted May 22, 2017 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      I really hope I didn’t accidentally “embed” that video.

      • Posted May 22, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        Just looked at the source. Ouch! I did embed it. Jerry, please delete it.

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 22, 2017 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        That was pretty amazing! The speaker was funny and engaging but I’m not sure about his IQ…

  11. Christopher
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Just a friendly little reminder that although we fancy ourselves as apart from or above nature, we are still little more than bags of meat.

    Glad she’s ok though; hate it when children have to pay for the stupidity of the adults.

  12. Jeff
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    As a scuba diver I can tell you: sea lions are jerks. It’s bad enough that they’re loud and obnoxious, but their worst sin is ripping the fins off of (big, harmless, adorable) sunfish, often just for the sport of it, at which point the sunfish can no longer swim and so they sink to the sea floor to die. Slowly and painfully. On one dive we saw a finless sunfish lying in 60 feet of water being eaten alive by starfish, which takes just as long as you’d imagine it would. We’d have killed the sunfish to put it out of its misery if we had a way to do it that we were sure would have worked and wouldn’t just cause it more pain. I’ve had no use for sea lions ever since.

    Now, harbor seals are another story. I’ll take a harbor seal over a sea lion any day.

    • Posted May 24, 2017 at 4:49 am | Permalink

      I’m a diver also Jeff. In California diving we often cross paths with sea lions and they are in generally very benign and PLAYFUL… often showing off swimming skills near divers, occasionally pulling at fins or snorkels in a totally harmless way. They are “jokesters”. BUT in mating season a diver must be cautious as the dominant males occasionally see divers as potential rivals and attempt to “see us off” in a rather aggressive fashion. Good diving practise is to NEVER interfere with any undersea creatures .. just observe! That’s quite enjoyable enough.

  13. Posted May 22, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Prof Coyne – I realise you may have been going for a jokey click bait title but given that no one was killed and there is no evidence that sealions have ever killed anyone, perhaps the use of ‘killer’ sealion in the title is a mistake. It is along the lines of news articles about snakes that calls them ‘savage’ or ‘vicious’. Apologies if this seems po-faced, but ‘killer’ is inaccurate.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Should he have said Hungry and Harassed? Most species do not understand the word killer so only some humans will be offended with these headlines.

      • Posted May 22, 2017 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

        Offended? No, it’s about accuracy and not spreading a myth about these animals being ‘killers’. However, looking at the size of the sealion against the little girl, that encounter could definitely have had a worse outcome.

        • John Taylor
          Posted May 22, 2017 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

          Looks like they kill plenty of penguins.

          • Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

            Yeah. It was a penguin on the dock.

            • Posted May 22, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

              Since there is no proof that sea lions or penguins read the newspapers, only humans, I also think the use of “Killer” in the title was wrong, even if meant in sarcasm. Sarcasm doesn’t translate well in headlines.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

                I’d agree, it was misleading. ‘Killer’ implies ‘man-eater’, and there’s no real evidence that the sealion in question was determined to eat the girl, in fact the quickness with which it released her rather suggests not.


          • John Taylor
            Posted May 23, 2017 at 4:47 am | Permalink

            Plenty of fish I should say.

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 22, 2017 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

      If this were the WaPo or NYT I’d agree, but this is Jerry’s website where I think most of us realized this was just another instance of his frequent spoofing of click-bait-style headlines. As they so eminently deserve.

  14. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    I did hear some comment in the background of the video, “Oh, it’s so cute”.

    Ask a penguin!


  15. Dale Franzwa
    Posted May 22, 2017 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    As a continuation of my comments on sea lions from an earlier post. Sea lions do bite. Sport fishing boats that operate out of harbors in Southern CA and utilize live bait (sardines and anchovies) purchase and load their bait supplies from receivers (specialized storage pens) in these harbors. Workers on the receivers report having been bitten by sea lions that congregate around the receivers, usually as bait is being loaded into bait tanks on the boats.

    Sea lions are nasty critters that are not to be fooled with.

  16. Athel Cornish-Bowde
    Posted May 23, 2017 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    “Of course this made me curious about whether there was any record of a human killed by a seal or sea lion.”

    Back in 2005 Sebastian Piñera, then President of Chile, was attacked by one of the sea lions that hang around the market in Valdivia in search of bits of fish that get thrown away. Sensible people don’t go too close to them. Anyway, the President wasn’t seriously hurt (or hurt at all, I don’t remember).

    • Lars
      Posted May 23, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      There was a snippet in one of the novels of John Dos Passos’ USA trilogy in which a sea lion trainer fell into the sea lion pool while he was training his animals, and they all promptly jumped in and attacked him. Of course this was in a novel, and it’s been a long time since I looked at it so I can’t remember how he mixed fact with fiction, although these novels have a semi-reportorial style.

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