February 11th, 2016
Slice Of Life | Meet Winifred, the Pinniped! Guest Series by Stephanie Schechter
After class on Thursday, April 3, 2014, the waves were pretty flat, so I went for a paddle at Campus Point, not expecting the experience of a lifetime. I was just cruising, paddling and catching some baby waves when this California Sea Lion pup decided to come say hello! I first noticed her swimming along, and took a couple pictures, feeling lucky to be able to see such a beautiful creature in its natural habitat. When she came up to the nose of my board, I was surprised that she was so brave. The moment she clambered aboard, my mind was blown! I knew she must have been unwell, because she was quite a young pup to be away from her mother, but she didn’t seem injured or sick! I coaxed her back into the water but she hopped right back onto my board, cuddling and nuzzling up to me, as if I was her mother. A young boy and his father saw me, and paddled out. They too were excited, and the boy even asked me, “are you a mermaid?!” They were also kind enough to use my camera to take a picture of me with the pup (my selfie attempts weren’t working out so well)! When the young boy paddled up to my board, approaching the pup, she growled at him, and waddled over to me for safety. The boy and his father went in to look for help, but no one of authority was around!
After almost two hours with the pup on my board, I managed to use a wave to get her back into the water, so I could get out and call for help! As I walked up the beach, she swam alongside the shore, following me! She walked up onto the shore as I began to head towards the stairs, but she didn’t attempt to take the stairs with me. I called the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center hotline and left a voicemail. 20 minutes later they called me and had rescued her by Goleta Pier, less than a mile away. We compared photos to make sure it was the same pup, and it was a match! They explained that she was about nine months old; around the age that Sea Lions no longer rely on their mother’s milk for survival, but DO still rely on her for helping to hunt fish. If a pup cannot keep up with the mother, the mothers sometimes abandon the pups, which drives them to starvation. This was the case of the little sweetie right here, so she has to be fed and taught to fish before returning back to the wild! It was extremely lucky that I just happened to have my little point-and-shoot water camera with me, and I am happy I could both document and assist in the situation! Thank you so much to the wonderful people at Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center for taking care of my amazing new friend. Who knows, maybe she just had a craving for watermelon! See you in the water, Winifred.
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