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Record number of sea lions swarm SF’s Pier 39; largest gathering in about 15 years, officials say

<i>KGO via CNN Newsource</i><br/>
KGO via CNN Newsource

By Suzanne Phan

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    SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Pier 39 is getting a lot of attention right now. It’s seeing the largest number of sea lions gathered in about 15 years.

The sea lions first appeared at Pier 39 after the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989.

Visitors will find a lot to see and do around Pier 39– the shops, the restaurants, the ferris wheel.

But, perhaps the star attractions right now are the sea lions.

People are hoping to get their best shot of the sea lions in the water and on the docks.

“It’s very cute,” said Tiffany Shieh, who’s visiting from Taiwan.

“The only reason I come down here is to see the sea lions,” said Joe Balbi, a San Francisco resident.

“They are so funny and so nice, I love them. They are like pushing each other off into the water,” said Aurora Zantile, who’s visiting from Italy.

Some visitors have noticed a big difference in the number of sea lions.

“Last year, I come here it’s not like, that much,” said Shieh.

Sheila Chandor, Harbormaster for Pier 39 Marina says they’ve counted about 1,000 sea lions this week.

“We haven’t had these kind of numbers of sea lions for probably over 15 years,” said Chandor.

Chandor says the surge in sea lions started about a week and half ago.

The sea lions are moving into toward the bay because they are following the food, according to Chandor.

“There’s is a huge herd of sea lions that are traveling south right now to the channel islands for mating and there’s a big school of anchovy out by the Farrallon Islands that has come into the Bay,” said Chandor.

“It’s kind of that dinner bell that’s ringing and all the sea lions are coming in enjoying that feast,” said Adam Ratner, Director of Conservation Engagement for the Marine Mammal Center.

Ratner said back in October of 2009, about 1,700 sea lions gathered at Pier 39.

Over the years, the numbers have really fluctuated.

Ratner believes the recent surge is a sign that San Francisco Bay is doing well.

“We get a sense of the Bay, the health of the sea lion population, and their comings and goings,” said Ratner.

According to Ratner, the large gathering of sea lions is temporary.

“So my guess this is what’s happening out in the water right now, this short term phenomenon where the fish that’s normally somewhere else is coming a little bit closer making the sea lions come a bit closer,” said Ratner.

The Harbormaster says the colony of sea lions here is stable.

She says it’s hard to say if and how much larger the numbers will actually get.

Shops and businesses around hope all the sea lions will bring more visitors who will also spend a little more money.

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