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Blame the parents, not the hungry sea lion.
That’s exactly what the head of a Canadian port did after a young girl playing on a pier was dragged into the drink by a California sea lion — and video of the dramatic rescue went viral after it hit the internet.
Accusing them of “reckless behavior,” Robert Kiesman of the Steveston Harbour Authority said the girl’s parents put her in harm’s way.
“You certainly shouldn’t be letting your girl sit on the edge of the dock with her dress hanging down after the sea lion has already snapped at her once, “ Kiesman said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Kiesman did not identify the girl who survived the dramatic encounter Saturday at Stevetson Fisherman’s Wharf in Richmond, British Columbia. But the cell phone video shot by 23-year-old Michael Fujiwara showed the sea lion gobbling-up food tossed into the water before going after the girl.
There are signs all over the dock that explicitly warn people not to feed the sea mammals and the penalty for “disturbing” an animal is a $100,000 fine, Kiesman said.
“You wouldn’t go up to a grizzly bear in the bush and hand him a ham sandwich, so you shouldn’t be handing a thousand-pound wild animal in the water slices of bread,” he said. “You can only spend so much time protecting people from their reckless behavior. We’ve now seen an example of why it’s illegal to do this and why it’s dangerous and frankly stupid to do this.”
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Aquarium is urging the girl’s family to get in touch with them for information about handling a possible infection.
“Seals and sea lions carry some pretty nasty bacteria in their mouth,” Danielle Hyson, a senior marine mammal trainer at the aquarium, told The Province newspaper in Vancouver.
So far, they haven't called, aquarium spokeswoman Deana Lancaster said in an email to NBC News.
"If she didn't suffer puncture wounds, she won't need treatment," Lancaster said. "So maybe that's good news!"
In interviews with Canadian newspapers, Fujiwara said he was sipping some coffee and pulled out his phone to take a video when he spotted the sea lion swimming by the pier.
“Everyone just thought it was super friendly and all, but seconds later the girl decided to sit on the side of the dock and that’s when the sea lion decided to jump out and drag her into the water,” said Fujiwara, a student at Simon Fraser University in nearby Burnaby.
In the video, people can be heard crying out "Oh my God!" as a fully-clothed man immediately jumps into the water and rescues the girl.
Fujiwara said he believes it was the girl’s grandfather who sprang into action.
California sea lions generally don’t attack people, Andrew Trites of the Marine Animal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia told NBC News. And this one did not appear to exhibit any “aggression” towards the girl.
“All I saw was an animal that was calm, curious and hungry,” he said. “Even after it all happened, the sea lion stayed in the same spot, still waiting to be fed.”