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Stories by Mike Humfreville

Sea Lion Pup    ( Posted January 23, 2005 )

I learned to fish in the '70's, by following the example of a friend, Jimmy Gallo. The only place we fished was Bahia de Los Angeles and it doesn't take more than a couple of weeks to get familiar with the many off islands and favorite fishing locations. We'd cruise along in my 14-foot tin boat with its 15 horse outboard pushing us through water at trolling speed. In those years it seemed like the few people fishing there were trolling.

We had a pattern, not intentionally set, where we set out about sun up from La Gringa and headed out between Isla la Calavera and the south point of Smith's. We usually stopped for a moment or two at Calavera to watch the sea lions cavorting on the surface of the water. From there we'd head up the west coast of Smith's trolling. We'd pass down the east side, motor into a small bay there and try dropping down, usually caught nothing, then powered up again and continued down to Piojo and south.

Somewhere inside a summer in the late '70's we were trolling near the center of Smith's west side and Jimmy got a hookup. I shut the engine down and he reeled in a nasty barracuda. As Jimmy pulled the fish near the boat we noticed another disturbance in the water. A sea lion pup popped up and was obviously pursuing the fish Jimmy had caught. We had to bring the fish into the boat quickly or the sea lion would get it. And the lure to boot.

We hauled in the fish and the pup backed off to what he figured was a safe distance from the boat, about 10 feet. He barked and splashed the water and it was apparent he really wanted that fish. Well, we didn't like beri's anyway, they're slimy and gunk up the boat. Jimmy threw the fish to the pup, who grabbed it and pulled up on the shore of Smith's to chow down. We watched for a bit, wondered what gave him the nerve to approach humans so closely. Soon we were continuing our fishing and then it was back to camp.

The next day we followed our established pattern. When we neared the place where we'd encountered the sea lion the day before we reeled in and stopped. I guess we missed the little fella. We waited for only a minute and were about to fire the engine, when up popped the pup. He swam a 360 around our boat. We just somehow knew he was begging. Jimmy picked up another junk fish we had but didn't want and held it out for the pup to see. He came closer to the boat and Jimmy tossed him the fish. We noticed that one of his eyes was opaque. The pup swam off with his fish and we were back underway.

This went on for the better part of a week. The pup was always in the same general area and we, out of habit, always passed the same place at the same time. Every day he got friendlier with us and would come up to the side of the boat and bark for his dinner. Every day we threw him a fish.

On the last day of our vacation we followed our usual routine. By this point we pretty much knew the pup was going blind. As he'd come closer to us daily we inspected his eyes and it was apparent there was something with both of them that wasn't right. While I was somewhat disturbed to be feeding a wild creature for a number of reasons, now I was glad. The pup couldn't forage on his own.

Knowing this would be our last visit, we spent a few minutes and provided him our last meal. As we were pulling a fish from the stern, Jimmy holding it up for the pup to examine, the pup jumped into the boat!

It blew us away and we scrambled to protect the pup from a string of lures we had suspended along the gunnels. We weren't at all sure how the pup would react to us with him in the same boat. Before we could clear the lures, he was into them and seconds later had snagged himself on several. We tried to hold him still, covered him with a hemp bag and headed for shore just beneath the volcano.

We hit the rocky shoreline and I jumped out, pulled the boat up as far as I could. Jimmy lifted the pup out of harms way with all the scattered lures and we laid him on the rocks and thought. He had three lures, one in an ear and two in his body. But they were all superficial. We decided we could cut and plier them out without causing serious damage.

It took us about 20 minutes to extract all the hooks. The pup was mostly cooperative, almost as if he understood the problem, which of course he didn't. We got everything pretty much back to normal, released the pup and recovered the hemp bag. He was off in a flash, back to his habitual places, I guess. He'd been through quite an ordeal.

In working on him up close it was clear that he was dying, from blindness we were sure. If he couldn't see how could he catch fish? Which explained why he was so willing to approach us and take chances he wouldn't have under more normal times.

I'm sadly certain he died shortly after these events. While as a human I might call Nature cruel, if I look at things through the mind of the pup, all I can see it the facts of life, no self pity, no remorse, just life as it is in the wild. In the long run, I was pleased we'd perhaps helped him in his final days. I doubt he had other sea lions around him. Animals tend to chase off the sick and injured.

So maybe Jimmy and I are the only friends he had when his time came.

Copyright 2003-2006 Mike Humfreville

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