A 13-year-old girl was bitten by a sea lion on Friday along California’s central coast in a “very rare” attack that lead officials to believe the marine mammal had been poisoned after eating toxic fish.
Capt. Todd Tognazzini, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the 13-year-old was standing in the surf zone while a friend was taking pictures of her, the Sacramento Bee reported. An adult female sea lion swam up, bit the girl on the thigh and then swam off.
“This is the first incident I can recall of anyone being bitten that wasn’t provoking the animal,” Tognazzini told the Bee. He said there have been a few cases of swimmers in the San Francisco area who were bitten in the last year or so, but “this is a very rare event.”
The girl was transported to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo. Doctors consulted Fish and Wildlife scientists to ensure the girl received the correct kind of antibiotics to treat the bite, Tognazzini said.
California Fish and Wildlife did not capture the animal believed to have bitten the girl until later that evening. A wildlife officer spotted a sea lion “behaving unusually” in the surf south of the Pismo Beach pier around 8:30 p.m., biting various objects, including a metal lifeguard tower, Tognazzini said.
Officials cannot be sure the sea lion captured was the same animal involved in the attack, but they believe "it's most likely this one sea lion" based on reports, Shawn Johnson, vice president of veterinary medicine and science at The Marine Mammal Center, said.
The Marine Mammal Center began to treat the animal for domoic acid poisoning, which occurs when sea lions consume too many small fish that have eaten toxic algae. The center placed the animal at its Morro Bay triage hospital and then moved it to its Sausalito hospital Saturday to continue treatment. Animals with domoic acid poisoning often suffer disorientation, brain damage, seizures and even death.