The Mystery of the Missing Sea Lions

Normally noisy area mysteriously vacant

By Jessica Greene
|  Tuesday, Dec 29, 2009  |  Updated 9:21 AM PDT
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Vets Work to Unravel Mystery of Sick Sea Lions

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Pier 39 Restaurant's Webcam shows the empty docks just before noon on Monday, Dec. 28.

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Pier 39 in San Francisco is normally smelled and heard from afar, even before tourists and local lay eyes on it. But as of Monday, the ever-present herd of sea lions that normally populates the collection of docks is missing.

The obvious absence has caught the attention of the team at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, as well as their hosts at Pier 39.

"We have no idea where they moved on to or why," Shelbi Stoudt, who helps take care of stranded sea life at the Marine Mammal Center said.

"It's exactly opposite of what we've seen over the last 10 years," said Sheila Chandor, Pier 39's harbor master. "I think it's food. Usually this time of year, we have a lot of herring coming through."

In September, the population peaked at a record high of 1,500 -- the most sea lions ever hosted by the pier since they moved in after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.

Chandor said that some sea lions tagged by the Marine Mammal Center had been located south of Monterey but cautions that the link to the sea lions' food supply is just "guesswork."

A quick check on the Webcam mounted at the Pier 39 Restaurant proves the sea lions are definitely gone from Pier 39's K Dock. A dozen or so remain on J Dock, according to Chandor.

The population of human sea-lion watchers remained steady.

Stoudt and her team aren't sending out a search crew. The sea lions are, after all, migratory, she told Wired.com.

Roving fisherman Daniel K. might take credit for the scarcity. His dog, Rez, a lab/pit bull mix, has a thing for sea lions and has been known to run after them, barking along the way and chasing them into the water at the Hyde Street Pier.

That's not likely the case at Pier 39, where fishermen and their dogs don't have access to the sea lions' special docks.

Whether it's the weather or just Mother Nature's natural migration sending the sea lions packing, one thing's for certain, Pier 39 just isn't the same without them.

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