Sea lions are playful and adorable animals, often dog like in their behavior. They will interact and play with humans on occasion and will circle them curiously, mimicking their movements and nibbling on their fins. But adult male sea lions do not share this tolerance for people. They are territorial, aggressive, and they are incredibly powerful. This swimmer was snorkeling in a shallow bay off Isla Los Lobos, recording fish, turtles and other creatures in the water. He looked to his right and saw a large animal at the shore line. It was a full grown male sea lion, approximately seven feet long and weighing over 500lbs. At the same time, the sea lion saw the swimmer and approached rapidly. What looks like a curious first pass with friendly intentions was more likely a display of aggression. This pass was meant to make it obvious that he is larger and that he is dominant. At the edge of the water, several female sea lions and their babies were lounging under a tree. The male sea lion will not hesitate to chase off any rival male sea lions that venture close to his women. Even males from his own colony will be chased away when they reach sexual maturity. On this occasion, even a human was not permitted to be so close to the others. Watching cautiously and maintaining his distance, the snorkeler recorded the animal. With two powerful strokes of his flippers, the giant beast closed the distance and circled within two feet. Recognizing that this was not play, the snorkeler held his camera in front of him as much to deter the sea lion as to record it. Keeping watch, the cameraman begins to calmly swim backwards, away from the area, fully aware that he is not welcomed by the large male. The sea lion drifts slowly behind as he makes his way along the shore. Soon after the first pass, the sea lion decides the retreat is not happening quickly enough. With a few more strokes of his flippers, the sea lion rapidly approaches again, this time coming within inches of the camera and the swimmer's legs. He flips over in what was possibly a better position to bite or display his teeth. As he reached the man, the sea lion let out a bark that can mean only one thing. He is giving a stern and possibly final warning that it is time to leave. His teeth and the enormity of his head and mouth couldn't be missed. This is an animal that can cause serious harm to a human with very little effort. The cameraman called to his wife who was swimming in their direction and the two made a rapid retreat. The sea lion was obviously satisfied and din't follow further. Intentionally approaching wild animals can be risky, but approaching a large territorial male sea lion will have serious consequences. Upon realizing that they were in the wrong place, these swimmers began a calm retreat and made no sudden movements that could be confused as aggression. Had the sea lion interpreted their behavior as defiance, he would have likely put them in their place quickly. Had they shown obvious fear, the results could have been the same.
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