Wild West: Sea Lions and Boaters in Oceanside (and Elsewhere)

San Diego County’s northernmost harbor has managed its sea lion population, but can it be replicated elsewhere?

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA—There has been no shortage of stories in The Log covering the tenuous relationship between boaters and sea lions. The next installment in these series of stories falls upon Oceanside Harbor, where local officials created a space of sea lions to (mostly) reside without interfering with boaters, kayakers, paddleboard users and others.

Paul Lawrence, Oceanside Harbor’s former manager, introduced dock space into waterway, essentially serving as an island a few feet off the riprap along North Harbor Drive. It’s a wooden dock structure with flotation, built by Oceanside Harbor Maintenance staff and measuring 30-feet-by-30-feet in size. The island is officially located 50 feet offshore, between the harbor’s fishing pier and transient docks. One could say the island loosely resembles the sea lion space at Pier 39 in San Francisco.

Implementing a “Sea Lion Island” in the middle of Oceanside Harbor has yielded mostly positive results, according to Ted Schiafone, the harbor’s director. The sea lions don’t necessarily commit to staying in one designated place, of course, so the island isn’t a perfect solution – but it does appear to be a step in the right direction. Can similar measures be implemented at other harbors?

“I can’t say for certain the sea lions are committed to this one area. They seem to go back and forth between the island and our transient docks,” Schiafone told The Log in an email. “Whenever the transient dock gets too busy for them, they congregate on the island. It seems to be the one place in the Harbor where there is no human interference.”

Schiafone added no one officially associated with the city of Oceanside proactively directed sea lions to the offshore island.

“I am not aware of any specific action that was taken to encourage Sea Lions to use the island. Since my time as Harbor Manager, we have done absolutely nothing to get them to use it,” Schiafone said. “The only action that I have taken is to communicate to our paddleboard and kayak rental companies to make certain they instruct their customers to stay clear of the island and to not bother or harass the sea lions.”

The jury is still out on whether the offshore island is an official success, but Schiafone does believe the 30-by-30 wooden dock is one of the better solutions offered to date.

“We don’t know for certain [whether the island is working]. We do know that the sea lions seem to stay off of all other docks inside the harbor. At this point I am beginning to believe that the sea lions like having a location exclusive to them,” Schiafone told The Log. “They also seem to like having the ability to congregate with many other sea lions, similar to Pier 39 in San Francisco. At this point, we are just happy they avoid our other docks.”

Sea Lion Island, according to Schiafone, has become quite the tourist attraction – which the harbor manager sees as a positive. There are, however, at least two concerns.

“The biggest problem is that our transient docks are not gated, so visitors like to get too close to snap a picture, even though they pass several warning signs along the way,” Schiafone said. “The [other] negative is the heavy smell and noise due to the concentration of the sea lions in one area.”

The Log has reached out to two other harbors to gain perspective on whether they are taking measures to manage the relationship between local users and sea lions. Los Angeles County officials who oversee operations at Marina del Rey failed to reply to The Log’s repeated attempts to obtain any perspectives. The Log’s requests for what Dana Point Harbor officials are doing to manage the local sea lion population were eventually directed to a spokesperson with Dana Point Harbor Partners. The spokesperson stated Dana Point Harbor would manage the local sea lion population with tactics approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

“Management of the Dana Point Harbor utilize methods approved fly NOAA Fisheries, West Coast Region and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA),” Carrie Williams Freitas, the Dana Point Harbor Partners spokesperson, told The Log in and email. “These approved/recommended methods include: Buckets and approved netting to deter sea lions [and] horns, low pressure water hoses and cattle prods.”

Does one size fit all or is management of sea lions at any given harbor contingent upon a variety of factors specific to the given waterway? The small sample size of this article certainly does not provide any finality, meaning this is an issue The Log will continue reporting upon and analyzing.



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2 thoughts on “Wild West: Sea Lions and Boaters in Oceanside (and Elsewhere)

  • February 15, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    I watch the sea lions frequently. The one thing I noticed is the dock made for them sits higher than the boat docks. I used to see them on their dock but have noticed the sea lions seem to prefer the boat docks. Could it be that the boat docks are easier to get up onto? If it were me, I too would use the boat docks. Maybe some type of device could be attached to their dock to make it easier for them, especially the pups, to get up on the dock. Or somehow lower their dock. Thank you.

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