Monday, November 16, 2015

What's with the "Grumpy Sea Lion" of Saltspring Island?

There's a sea lion out there who just won't leave us alone. It's getting a little annoying. Frankly, he's become rather mean-spirited. We've haven't seen other sea kayaks out there for a while, so it's difficult to corroborate our tale with other paddler's experiences.

We have no pictures...when this guy shows up, he's usually astern, in our "blind spot". He then overtakes, and usually, with some "drama". Needless to say, we're reluctant to take our hands off the paddle when there may be a need for a quick brace as he (in our vivid imaginations) attempts to capsize us. And even when held "hostage", on the shore, it never occurred to either of us to take out a camera...we were too mesmerised with his irritating behaviour, which could certainly be characterised as uncongenial and contrarian.

We've identified this guy as a Stellar sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus). He has a very broad chest and neck, high forehead, and what looks like a mane of hair.  Stellars grow to about 10 feet in length and can weigh in up to 2,470 lb! To compare, our kayaks are around 17.5 feet  long and weigh in at around 50 lbs. 
The only pinnipeds larger are two species of elephant seals and the walrus. Just paddle away from him you say? Well, they cruise at around 11 mph and, in a burst of speed, can achieve 25 miles per hour. Us? Not so much. On a good day, we paddle about 3 mph, although a short lived "burst of speed" might register 6 mph - with the tide, current, a tail wind, following waves, a high energy lunch, and a good measure of adrenaline. 

Stellar sea lion: Image courtesy
The first time we encountered one another, several weeks ago, we weren't even on the water. We were taking a small break, enjoying a cup of steaming, green tea on the "secret beach", over on Saltspring Island. 

"Himself" came cruising by, barking and growling...and baring his teeth. Circling back, he came progressively closer to the beach...still barking and growling. After what felt like a rather long time, our new pal, who seemed satisfied that he had given us a well-deserved scolding, submerged and swam away. He subsequently surfaced every so often, and glanced back with what looked like a rather menacing expression. Grumpy or what? Interestingly, male sea lions only live half as long as females. Perhaps a consequence of a lifetime of grumpiness? Hmmm...there may be a point to this story after all.

Once he was out of sight, we slid the boats back into the water, and proceeded towards the ferry terminal at Vesuvius. Although we remained vigilant, the rest of the paddle was uneventful...and unaccompanied.

A week later, we were back across the Narrows, investigating the nooks and crannies, and listening to the contemplative "music" of the the ample run off from recent rains.

Suddenly, out of nowhere - and only several boat lengths away - the very large (and now familiar) brown body launched violently out of the sea, twisted in the air and performed a very good imitation of a whale was our pal again, now, clearly showing off. He may have been having a good time, but it wasn't the least bit funny to us. He showed those impressive teeth, growled, gave us a "don't let me see you out here again" look...and swam off, with one self-satisfied glance back. Feeling a little "territorial" there, buddy?

So, this past week, we were back...yep, and so was the Stellar sea lion. As we paddled along the same shore, over at Saltspring, he surfaced, grumpy as usual. This time, he swam somewhat aggressively towards the kayaks, pushing a substantial bow wave, stopping about twenty feet away. He then repeated this interesting manoeuvre several times, "herding" us towards a small cove where we elected to egress the boats and wait this silliness out. Sheesh!

In the meantime, we discovered a most interesting jellyfish-like "thing". Anyone have any idea what it is?

No longer the focus of our attention, our now-faithful "paddling partner" swam off, undoubtedly feeling very smug. So what's with the "Grumpy Sea Lion" of Saltspring Island? 

Paddling back out from the beach, a blue heron, who had been watching the whole affair from his perch on the rocks, gave one last glance in our direction...and lifted off. It's repeated, sustained, and harsh awwk, is perhaps the nastiest and grumpiest sound of any bird, anywhere, as one writer suggested, like a velociraptor charging! 

I love nature. ;)


  1. Herons really are the most grumpy birds - especially if they are roosting near a wild camp site on a dark night - and they look like Pterodactyls in flight too! But it does seem like the sealion is taking things personally; those things look like a leather Chesterfield with a bad attitude!

    Warm wishes to you both

    1. Well said and excellent description, Ian! :)) And the sound of a heron at a wild campsite on a dark night would be...nightmarish! It does sound like a good project. Haha! Warm wishes to you and LInda.

  2. Replies
    1. Douglas, I just felt a deep "chill"...of blood running cold. ;) Ah, seriously though (and these things ARE serious), I'm sure the ghost of the lighthouse keeper appreciated the company. And it may have been a very long time since someone shared an Irish "isotonic" drink with him. :) Thanks and warm wishes.

  3. You n your Scottish buddies are going to get yourselves spooked sharing these tales of grumpy wildlife...makes one think we should be more worried about birds and sealife on the ocean rather than the cougars and bears on the trail!
    Stay safe,

    1. Haha! You're absolutely correct, Linda. And here I thought the bears and cougars here were getting a little out of hand and unruly but the "leather Chesterfield with the bad attitude" and the ridiculous herons...sheesh! Thanks for that. :) Warm wishes to you SG.

  4. I think the large jelly-like creature on your paddle is a vary large nudibranch - sea slug - Giant rainbow dendronotid - Dendronotus iris.
    The white line along the margin of the foot is typical of this critter. You seem to be having fun with your Steller sealion!!

    1. Hi Eric, great to hear from you, and thanks so much for that. I'd almost given up getting an ID on the little creature. Good to know. Yes, the sea lion was lots of fun, well, sort of...thankfully, we think he's grown bored with us and moved on. :) Again, thank you. Warm wishes. Duncan.