Friend Or Foe: Are Sea Lions Dangerous?

are sea lions dangerous

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Sea lions are marine mammals that belong to the pinniped family and can be found all around the world on both land and in water.

They’re well known for their playful behavior, agility, and being highly intelligent animals that can problem-solve and have excellent short-term memory.

Whilst sea lions have a cute and cuddly appearance, they’re armed with between 34 and 38 teeth that they use for catching fish, penguins, octopuses, and more in the wild.

This brings up an interesting question that has been pondered by those that encounter sea lions in the wild for decades. Are sea lions dangerous?

In this post, we’re going to answer exactly that and take a closer look at the sea lion and the threats they may or may not pose toward humans.

Let’s get into it…

Are Sea Lions Dangerous?

No, sea lions are NOT typically dangerous, BUT, if they are sick or injured, feel threatened, or during breeding season when they are with their young they may not hesitate to attack a human.

These aquatic acrobats are more curious toward humans than aggressive, but it’s always important to keep your distance from sea lions as they are capable of inflicting serious harm if provoked.

are sea lions dangerous
Photo by Francisco Davids

Wild animals of all kinds can be unpredictable and may act out of character from time to time, so with those that have teeth such as the sea lion it’s always best to air on the side of caution.

Keep in mind that these animals are large predators that have big teeth and powerful jaws, so it’s wise to stay on their good side by keeping your distance.

Do Sea Lions Attack Humans?

Sea lion attacks on humans are VERY rare, but if humans overstep their mark and come within a 2.5m range of these animals, they may feel intimidated and attack.

In 2007, a sea lion leaped from the water and seriously mauled a 13-year-old girl who was surfing behind a speed boat in Western Australia.

The girl said she used a series of kicks and punches to try and fend off the sea lion, but she ended up losing three teeth during the attack and had treatment on her neck for a deep tooth puncture wound.

Another attack occurred in San Diego in 2015 when a sea lion attacked a 62-year-old man on a speed boat, injuring his hand and foot.

Whilst these animals don’t often attack humans, it’s clear that they can be unpredictable and it’s therefore important to be very cautious around sea lions.

They are large marine mammals that are equipped with a sharp set of teeth that can cause a lot of damage to humans.

A video went viral back in 2017 of a sea lion dragging a young girl into the water which could have ended very badly but luckily didn’t.

It’s thought that the sea lion viewed the girl’s dress as food, but quickly realized that this was not his usual type of prey and let the girls go.

You can check the video out here:

Can Humans Swim With Sea Lions?

Generally, humans can swim and dive with sea lions so long as they keep their distance and do not try to feed, stroke, or approach them.

Sea lions are curious animals by nature that often swim right up to divers in the wild to check them out and get a closer look.

Oftentimes divers will have amazing experiences when swimming with sea lions as they like to play around with humans.

These marine mammals are very intelligent and are aware that humans are not on their menu, so they’re pretty safe to swim so long as you give them the respect they deserve.

Sea lions are wild animals that as we’ve already discussed can be unpredictable at times, so if you do come across a sea lion in the wild when swimming, keep your distance and don’t be afraid.

There are a number of places where humans can swim with sea lions in the wild, I’ve listed some below if you are interested in swimming with these awesome animals.

  • Baja California, Mexico
  • Kauai, Hawaii
  • Farne Islands, United Kingdom
  • Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  • Kaikoura, New Zealand
  • Ross Sea, Antarctica

Are Sea Lions More Dangerous Than Seals?

Yes, sea lions are slightly more dangerous than seals as they are generally a little more feisty and likely to attack humans.

However, this doesn’t mean that either of these two animals are dangerous to humans provided you give them the space and respect they need.

That said, both of these animals can quickly become aggressive or exhibit unpredictable behavior if they feel threatened or intimidated.

Attacks on humans from sea lions and seals are rare, but there’s no denying that they certainly do happen from time to time.

In general, sea lions and seals are not particularly dangerous to humans so long as they are not sick, injured, or feeling threatened or intimidated.

It’s also worth noting that both seals and sea lions may act unpredictably if they have pups around.

What To Do If A Sea Lion Approaches You

It’s not uncommon for sea lions to approach divers or swimmers as they’re inquisitive and curious animals that like to play and investigate humans.

However, this can be quite intimidating and scary for those that have never come across a sea lion in the wild, so it’s important to know what to do if this scenario happens.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommends people stay at least 50 yards away from all marine life.

Keep this in mind when around sea lions, and if you find that the sea lion is approaching you quickly, slowly back away without turning your back to the animal.

Do not try to touch, feed, or grab the sea lion as this could be viewed as a threat that may provoke an attack.

are sea lions dangerous
Photo by Lindsay MacNevin

Simply, back away slowly from the animal and don’t engage with it, you want to create a gap between yourself and the animal to ensure your safety.

Most importantly, stay calm and remember that it’s very rare for a human to be attacked by sea lions.

If you panic, you may forget these important steps and begin flailing your arms around and using more oxygen in your dive tank than you normally would which can quickly become VERY dangerous.

Wrapping Up

To sum up, NO, sea lions are generally not dangerous and pose very little threat to humans in the wild.

They are intelligent marine mammals that know that we’re not part of their natural diet, and therefore are not interested in harming or attacking humans.

However, sea lions have attacked humans in the past that have ended up in some serious injuries, so it’s important to be vigilant around these animals as they are capable of causing harm to humans.

These animals are very curious about humans and often swim right up to divers and swimmers in the wild which can make for some unforgettable experiences.

But divers that are not aware of how to deal with an approaching sea lion may panic which can quickly turn into a disastrous situation.

The key to remember is that you should always maintain a distance of around 50 yards when close to any aquatic animal.

This gives you enough time to react appropriately in any situation, and puts you far enough away so that the animal should not view you as a threat.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and learn more about sea lions and whether or not they are dangerous.

Catch you in the next one!