Friday, September 10, 2010

Charleston, Oregon: Sea Lion Heaven

Charleston has to be the sea lion capital of the world. Yes, this tiny little place has a plague of sea lions. What at first seems novel, soon becomes a royal pain, as you listen to these giant sea monsters bark and growl at each other all day and all night. Sometimes it truly is hard to find beauty in nature.

Our introduction to sea lions came as we glided into port. We found the municipal marina, found an empty dock and tied up. As we hopped off to secure the lines we needed to navigate around a humungous pile of slimy dung. Doug said to me: “What sort of creature would leave this!!!” It didn’t take us long to find out.

Over the next few days, we watched with amazement as dozens of tourists came close to these beasts to take their pictures and admire their huge size. A fisherman sat at the entrance to the docks, feeding the sea lions the guts and remains of the countless albacore tuna he fileted, while visitors watched in awe. Later, when I took this fisherman’s picture, I asked him if he had named the sea lions who waited patiently for him each day, and he replied, in a disinterested way: “No, I leave that to the tourists”.

Yet these creatures are truly amazing. Known as California Sea Lions and Stellar Sea Lions these giants’ social skills are highly developed. They definitely have a very wise understanding of the rhythm of life on these docks. They know who belongs here, who visits, who will bother them and who will ignore them. Their resemblance, both physically and behaviourally, to canines is amazing. I couldn’t find any leonine traits at all. Why weren’t they called sea dogs instead of sea lions?

What we at first took for amorous behavior soon was revealed to be hierarchal competitions for the best dock space and the juiciest morsels from the fish boats. They are all males. Apparently, California and Stellar Sea Lions forsake their mates to travel as far north as British Columbia, leaving their feminine companions to look after their offspring on the rocky coasts of Northern California. These are not animals to treat lightly. The males weigh from 500 lbs to over a ton and can reach 10 feet long. If one was to add up the weight of the half a dozen or so of these sea animals who chose to sunbathe beside Ka’sala, you might understand why I was a little nervous about leaving the boat. Yet, once I got to know these big boys and they got to know me, we all got along just fine. If only I could have figured out how to get them to shut up at night!

Were these the sea mammals sailors described as mermaids? (No, those were manatees!) Yet these pacaderm creatures are as graceful as ballerinas in the water. They make the butterfly stroke look easy and commonly come together in groups to swim like the most graceful synchronized swimmers. They were intriguing to watch and horrifying to listen to. When I think about all the times we travelled down this coast and observed the fascination these beasts hold for humans, I feel privileged and a little awed, that we had the opportunity to spend a week in their close proximity. However, I won’t soon forget those sleepless nights!

No comments:

Post a Comment