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Sea lion showdown: Will the Sacramento River’s visitors be a boon or a bane?

<i>KOVR</i><br/>Sea lions are back along the Sacramento River waterfront
Sea lions are back along the Sacramento River waterfront

By James Taylor, Web Staff

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    SACRAMENTO, California (KOVR) — Sea lions are back along the Sacramento River waterfront, but some are worried they may cause some problems if they decided to stick around.

The marine mammals are becoming a “sea-lebrities” sighting along the Old Sacramento and West Sacramento waterfronts, with curious crowds coming to take pictures and see the creatures up close.

“People usually line up over here and they have their phones and stuff,” said Allison Lelchuk, a sea lion spectator.

It’s common for the marine mammals to swim up the Sacramento and American rivers from the ocean, looking for food.

But there’s one spot that they seem to be taking over.

The City of West Sacramento spent more than $3 million building a public boat dock that opened just two years ago.

But now, it’s a lot more common to see sea lions using it than any boaters.

“I don’t know what brings them here, but I’m glad they’re here,” Lelchuk said. “I think it’s really cool”

So what kind of problems could sea lions cause for West Sacramento?

Sea lions and other marine mammals are protected by federal law, with people being prohibited from approaching or touching them.

On land, that means staying at least 50 yards away.

“They are wild animals. They may not look it when they’re laying out on the dock, but they are fearsome and they can move really fast, so it’s critical that people keep their distance,” said NOAA spokesperson Michael Milstein.

West Sacramento’s dock is only 144 yards long – so if the sea lions are in the middle of the dock, nearly the entire space could be unapproachable.

Dock owners can use certain deterrence measures like putting up fencing or nets, and using flashing lights, strobes, water sprinklers and noise makers.

But so far, West Sacramento has not installed any of these countermeasures.

“I wouldn’t go near them. They look a little scary, but they’re cute,” Lelchuk said.

The sea lions could actually have a positive economic impact by bringing more tourists to the waterfront, like at Pier 39 in San Francisco.

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