ENVIRONMENT
12/17/2017 01:42 am ET Updated Dec 17, 2017

Sea Lion Attacks Shut Popular Swimming Spot In San Francisco

"I was a quarter mile from shore; there was nothing I could do," says a man who was bitten.

Officials have closed a popular swimming area in San Francisco Bay after a third swimmer was attacked within in a week by what’s believed to be a sea lion.

A man was bitten near the groin area by the animal early Friday as he swam in Aquatic Park Cove on the city’s north coast that’s used by dedicated swimmers who brave the cold waters. Other swimmers helped the man to shore and to an ambulance.

The swimmer, identified as Rick Mulvihill, suffered a “severe bite,” a fire department official told the San Francisco Chronicle. 

“I’ve been here 50 years and I’ve never heard of anything like this,” swimmer Bob Roper told the San Chronicle. “You have a lot of very, very nervous swimmers now and I don’t blame them.”

He said Mulvihill was bitten on the upper thigh, “close to the family jewels,” and that it was “a pretty deep gash.”

Another swimmer was bitten on the arm Thursday by a sea lion even though the man tried shoo the animal away. The wound was bleeding profusely and the man waved down a sailboat to take him to shore, where a police officer applied a tourniquet and he was rushed by an ambulance to a local hospital. A fire department statement called the wound a “serious extremity injury.”

“The boat saved his life,” police officer Matthew Reiter said at a news conference.

The swimmer, Christian Einfeldt, told ABC7 News: “I did feel threatened. I did have warning. But I was a quarter mile from shore. There was nothing I could do.”

He added that after being bitten, “I was relatively calm because I wasn’t dead.”

Another swimmer was attacked earlier in the week but the injury was minor and did not require treatment at a hospital.

Officials believe the attacks could be by the same animal, which may be injured or sick. Aquatic Park will be closed until Monday while officials attempt to determine look further into the attacks. It’s possible the animal was a harbor seal and was misidentified by the swimmers.

Both sea lions and harbor seals are powerful and “certainly have the strength to really harm somebody,” Claire Simeone, a  veterinarian at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands, told the Chronicle. Simeone studied 10 attacks by different kinds of seal in the Bay from 2011 to 2013. 

Aquatic Park is close to Pier 39 where scores of sea lions gather.

CONVERSATIONS