Interview with a Sea Lion in Aquatic Park

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 20 December 2017

A report of an aggressive sea lion at the city’s Aquatic Cove made the news recently. According to officials, 3 swimmers were attacked in a span of 5 days by what was described as “aggressive marine mammals”. Aquatic Park Cove is frequented by triathletes and members of the South End Rowing Club—among others—for the chilly waters that can get the heart pumping during an early morning swim. Many professionals, including Doctors and lawyers—the kind that Richard Pryor described as “old white men that be lappin’ yo’ ass while you tryin’ to jog in the park”--no doubt frequent Aquatic Park Cove to maintain both physical and mental prowess that can, ultimately, be applied to the corporate board room or spa. I was intrigued to learn of the attacks because during my visits to North Beach, I have witnessed sea lions on wooden planks lying in the sun, the planks undulating to the rhythms and currents of the emerald waters, still and serene, except for a sudden eruption of barks emanating from their bewhiskered mouths.

Good natured, almost regal they appear, in the presence of tourists from around the globe who gawk at them while stuffing their faces with local fare—bread bowls overflowing with clam chowder, ice cream cones and any number of concoctions featuring the vast array of crustaceans that inhabit the bay and beyond. The sea lions themselves appear to be satisfied—as if lying after a big meal, waiting for someone to toss a cigar, jump in the water, swim over and perform the duty of lighting it.

Having grown up in North Beach, I remember the sound of conga drums, bongos, timbales, tin cans—all coming together at Aquatic Park. With fond memories I embarked on a search for the sea lion deemed the “aggressive marine mammal.” I gazed at the wide expanse of water along Aquatic Cove for 3 days and for three days all I saw were seagulls and ripples in the water. I was ready to give up until I encountered the sight of a sea lion navigating effortlessly the brisk emerald waters it calls home. There was nobody in the vicinity, just the sea lion and I. I got its attention. It swam to the shore.

TR: Hey!
Sea Lion: What’s up? Where do I know you from?
TR: I don’t know
Sea Lion: Didn’t you used to hang out at Aquatic Park? You used to drum with those guys on the weekends.
TR: I remember that. I never played the drums but I listened
Sea lion: It was cool, but everything damn thing they played sounded the same…it was like listening to Santana…Jingo Bop for 10 hours straight
TR: Can I ask you something?
Sea Lion: Shoot
TR: Did you do it?
Sea Lion: What are you referring to?
TR: Did you attack 3 swimmers in 5 days?
Sea Lion: It wasn’t me. But I know who it was. Not all sea lions look alike you know.
TR: Who was it?
Sea Lion: Hey, I ain’t no sea snitch but he’s been around for a long time. He’s scared.
TR: Scared? Why?
Sea Lion: We got internet access down below. We know what’s going on. North Beach is plagued with short term rentals and evictions. There’s a real fear that we’ll get evicted from our planks. Someone will want to use them for a short term rental or condo. We don’t want to live in no condo-submarine, you know?
TR: So, you’re scared?
Sea Lion: Wouldn’t you be? Nobody’s safe. Look, we’re a tourist attraction…people come around snapping our pictures all the time. Taking our best poses and sticking them on postcards. And the verbal abuse we take to boot. And everybody takes a selfie with us. But did they ever ask us if we wanted to be in their little pictures?
TR: But that doesn’t justify attacking someone
Sea Lion: I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t in the vicinity. But I asked him about it.
TR: What did he say?
Sea Lion: He said it was a nip, a love bite. Said he was trying to get their attention.
TR: The guy who got bit had a tourniquet applied to his arm.
Sea Lion: I heard about it. The one who bit him felt bad about it.
TR: Remorse
Sea Lion: I suppose. He did say that those old guys don’t have much meat on their bones. But he regretted it.
TR: What are you going to do now?
Sea Lion: Try to keep out of trouble. But the places we can swim and breathe seem to be getting smaller. We have to share but it seems that sharing has taken a different meaning. A coyote friend of mine told me that there was a mountain lion seen up on Diamond Heights. I’d heard that the mountain lion had gotten wind of the evictions and that the people were vanishing so he thought there’d be space for him. What he didn’t know was that people were being replaced with more people. So they shot his ass with a tranquilizer gun. But we got to share this planet, this space. But it seems that sharing has taken a different meaning. This is a problem on both land and sea.
TR: Any final words or thoughts?
Sea Lion: Yeah, you want a love bite?

The sea lion gave me a fist bump with his flipper. He trudged along the shore and into the cool waters of Aquatic Cove. I watched as his figure became one with the ocean, among the thousands of ripples taking shape along the current. I headed towards the sound of drums, timbales, congas and tin cans…Jingooooo Bop!


© 2017 Tony Robles


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