They're cute and fun to watch, but sea lions are wild animals, and experts are using Saturday’s close call involving a young girl at a Canada pier as a teachable moment for people who don't realize how dangerous the marine mammals can be.
At San Francisco's Pier 39, crowds pack the boardwalk to watch the sea lions as they play, bark and doze in the sun. Many there Monday saw the video of the sea lion snatching a girl off a dock in a Vancouver, British Columbia, suburb.
"I didn't know sea lions did that," said Cabot Phillips.
Tim Sceffens added, "I think everyone probably has a new appreciation of what sea lions are capable of."
The video shows a girl and her family feeding the sea lion before it suddenly lunges up to a railing and pulls the girl over and into the water. A man then is seen jumping into the water to retrieve the girl.
Jeff Boehm of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito said while sea lions typically feed on fish, they can be emboldened by humans who feed them.
"These are animals that are hunters," Boehm said Sunday. "They are sometimes ... attracted into ports or harbors where there are fishing communities or fish markets and sometimes, unfortunately, are fed by the public."
Boehm said people should maintain a distance of at least 100 feet from sea lions.
Tourists from Alaska visiting Pier 39 on Monday said they would have known better.
"I've seen stuff like that before, so I know that they're mean, they're extremely aggressive," one tourist said. "I thought it was common sense. Apparently not."