PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Dock has become a local hangout for a raft of California sea lions visiting the area.
First spotted last week, the group of up to three large mammals has been reported in the water on and around City Dock at Pope Marine Park.
During Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony at the dock, it was reported that as soon as a rendition of taps began, a sea lion started barking.
The dock is managed by the Port of Port Townsend which has erected a sandwich board alerting the public to the presence of the mammals.
Betsy Carlson, citizen science coordinator for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center — who oversees the Marine Mammal Stranding Network locally — said this is the time of year when California sea lions begin to appear in the region.
“This is normal behavior for them, as it is mating season,” she said. “It’s normal for them to haul out and crawl up on docks or buoys.”
They eat fish, and are often seen swimming with their flippers out. Seen at a certain angle, some can look like orcas.
Carlson said they have an amazing ability to climb.
“They do a lot with their front flippers. They bend and climb onto things, far better than seals,” she said.
Carlson confirmed one of the animals at city dock is branded.
“The brand indicates the animal is from a colony from the Columbia River. It has been marked ‘X 101.’ Most live between southeast Alaska and Mexico.”
She said sea lions can carry disease.
“It’s a good idea to give them space. The most common disease, bacterial leptospirosis, can be transmitted to pets and humans. If the animal seems sick, give it a wide berth,” she suggested.
Carlson said sea lions will attack dogs if they get too close and added that it is important to keep pets away from them.
California sea lion males can reach up to 8-feet-long and weigh up to 800 pounds. Females are typically 5-feet-long and weigh about 250 pounds.
“California sea lions are the ones we hear barking,” she said. “We’ve been hearing them at Fort Worden in the area near the channel marker. It’s a common time of year to start seeing them. Males are trying to establish their territories.”
According to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center Mammal Stranding Network, all marine mammals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) advises people to stay 100 yards away, if possible, and refrain from touching, handling or feeding marine mammals.
Stranded marine mammals in or around Port Townsend can be reported at 360-385-5582, Ext. 103.
The marine science center has agreement with NOAA to be the West Coast regional responders for East Jefferson County, from the east side of the Dungeness Spit in Sequim south and east to Brinnon.
“Aren’t we lucky that we have them in our area so that we can see them?” Carlson remarked.
Carlson also said that harbor seal pupping season is June through August around Port Townsend. In Hood Canal, the season is a bit later. She advised all to be aware of harbor seal pups left on the beach.
“Mom won’t come back if people are in sight,” she warned.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]