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Sea lion squatters in So-Cal


"A large gang of sea lions" is occupying three docks at Ventura in Southern California, the first time the 800-pound animals have squatted within the harbor itself. Until recently, the sociable sea lions congregated on large buoys that lead out of the harbor, but now, thanks to what describes as the animals' "hostile takeover," they have moved inland and attracted the attention of a growing number of locals and tourists. Their presence creates several problems. First, the "appealingly pudgy creatures" are overloading their new homes, causing one dock to tilt alarmingly, and second, although they seem to enjoy entertaining onlookers by barking and cavorting in the water, sea lions have nasty pointy teeth and voracious appetites (fortunately, primarily for salmon). They pose a clear threat to anybody moving in too close. One person commenting on the story compared sea lions to people, with some acting like total jerks when their space is invaded: "I experienced a large male roaring in my face from about five feet after he jumped out from behind a big rock. You'd be surprised how fast they can move, and his roar was a hot stinky wind of fish death that blew my hair back. …" The Park Service says it's debating how to regain control of its docks, given the restrictions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Loud noises and flashing lights are both under consideration, though another commenter pooh-poohed their effectiveness: "Does anyone really think lights and noise are going to disperse these animals?" Instead, "Hauksdottir" recommended doing a scientific experiment: building different kinds of docks and then testing them to see what most appeals to sea lions, comparing docks with bumpy surfaces to docks that teeter or incorporate a slide, and then constructing the most popular dock wherever you want the animals to go. Her bet was on the slide, because she saw a steep, stepped rock near San Miguel Island, the westernmost of California's Channel Islands that has been colonized over the years by sea lions. "They would lumber up, face nose-down and slide in one exhilarating rush and splash, then swim back and do it over and over."

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