A sea lion, looking for a bite to eat, instead bit a San Diego man’s hand and dragged him off the side of a boat — a terrifying moment perfectly caught on camera. The victim said the attack forced him to think, “This is the place where I am going to die.”
Dan Carlin was touting an exciting catch on April 5: a large yellowtail reeled in from the ocean.
As he and his wife Trish docked into the Hyatt Mission Bay Marina, Trish asked him to pose for a picture, instructing him to pick up the fish and smile.
But a jealous sea lion below thought it should get the catch.
As Trish pushed the button on the camera, the sea lion jumped from the water and bit Dan's hand.
“My legs were flipped up in the air and I went straight down,” Dan told NBC 7 on Tuesday.
With an iron grip, the animal refused to let go, diving down with Dan in tow.
“As I am going into the water, I feel him tugging me down,” he described. “I know that I am going to die. This is the place where I am going to die.”
But after 20 seconds underwater, Dan was able to struggle loose and free himself from the sea lion’s mouth. As he started to swim away, he said the animal bit his foot.
By the time rescuers arrived, he had made it back to the boat. Dan spent the next two days in the hospital for severe wounds to his hand and foot.
After the terrifying incident, Dan is now speaking out about sea lion aggression.
“They come onto the piers and they become aggressive,” he said. “And I just want people to know they’re not anything that you want to get close to.”
In the first few months of the year, more than 1,800 sick sea lion pups were reported along California beaches.
Warmer conditions mean less food for the sea mammals and, according to Jim Milbury at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), that could be what prompted this sea lion to try such a brazen theft.
Milbury said it's fairly common that people will feed sea lions and other mammals by throwing fish off the back of boats.
"That gets to be a learned behavior. It doesn’t take them long to figure out where the fish are," Milbury said. "They’re smart, they can be aggressive and they seem to be especially hungry right now."
The California Sea Lion can range in weight from 250 pounds for females to 900 pounds for males.
NOAA’s advice to the public: don’t approach them, don’t try to touch them or ride them and don’t try to swim with them.
Boaters should stay at least 50 yards from seals and sea lions, according to the agency’s guidelines.
NOAA suggests swimmers should stay 50 yards from seals or sea lions that are in the water or on buoys. When they are on the beach, stay 100 feet away when approaching on land.