Saturday, June 12, 2010

WIldlife in the City

Our son flew home a couple days ahead of us so he could get back to college on time.  As one of the things we all really get a kick out of in San Francisco is the sea lions at Pier 39, before we took him to the airport, we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch.  Afterwards we visited the sea lions.  

There have not always been sea lions at Pier 39.  One arrived on K dock twenty years ago after the Loma Prieta earthquake and within a few weeks, there were hundreds of them.  In fact in May this year there was a celebration of their arrival on the pier -  including cupcakes and hats for the humans.  It was a celebration that nearly did not happen as last year after Thanksgiving they all disappeared.  Most summers they head south to mate, but return in the autumn when the herring season begins.  This time not one sea lion remained behind.  They have become so much a part of Pier 39, everyone was absolutely delighted to see them return. 

Standing looking out over the docks which were specially built for them, all you can hear is their loud barking.  The dominant males make a special effort to sit up with their heads proudly in the air, but other sea lions laze all over the docks, occasionally going for a dip in the Bay.  When one wants to climb back up he usually clambers over all the others, eliciting angry barks of protest and occasionally the odd nip.  Once in while one of them will arch their back and perform an almost perfect yoga cobra, stretching their heads almost backwards to sunbathe. 

Although I have seen sea lions in many other places, it is always staggering to see them at Pier 39 in what is effectively a very urban setting.  Right on the edge of a huge city, you have a large number of utterly wild animals who have, for the last 20 years, chosen to come here.  Crowds gather on the Pier, looking out over the docks, fascinated by these large animals who are so graceful in the water, and so awkward out of it. 

For me it is a great reminder of how much animals depend on us to maintain the environment, and allow them their space even in places we think of as urban.  It also makes me think of how close we really are to wild things even when we believe we are somehow separate and far off.   Most times when I stand there looking out at them, I notice several of them gazing just as intently back at me.  I can’t help but wonder who is watching who.....and hoping that whatever happens the sea lions keep returning to Pier 39.  It wouldn’t be the same without them! 

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