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Sea lion flash mobs prey on fishermen’s catch (with video)

By BY LARRY PYNN, VANCOUVER SUN, 🕔Thu, Feb 12th, 2015


Veteran commercial fisherman Derek Morton describes it as an oceanic “flash mob,” a sudden swarm of California sea lions that descends upon commercial seine boats as they haul in their herring catch in the Strait of Georgia.

“That’s what it’s like. They show up fast, they’re there, and when it’s done, they’re gone.”

What makes the experience so extraordinary is the fact the sea lions have learned to slip in and out of the seine nets to exploit the herring catch at will.

“I think it’s in their genes now,” says Morton, who has fished various stocks on the B.C. coast for four decades. “They just hop over the cork line. They’ve got it down pretty good. Hundreds and hundreds of them.”

When a commercial seine boat sets its net and draws it in like a purse, the sea lions jump or slide over the net to gorge on the captive prey.

As the seine net is drawn closer to the vessel and the herring pumped onto the deck, the sea lions slip over the net again.

Fishermen are naturally not happy to see so many predators in their nets devouring part of the catch, and generally believe there are too many of the animals in local waters. But Morton says they’ve learned to live with the marine mammals and when one occasionally gets its teeth caught in the seine it is safely removed by adjusting the net or spraying the animal with a hose. Some fishermen bang the ship’s steel bollards with a hammer to try to scare the sea lions away.

“We put up with them,” he said. “But there are so many now. It’s amazing, actually.”

Morton took photos and video footage of the event during a commercial herring food fishery on the evening of Jan. 18, near Entrance Island off Nanaimo. Some sea lions also got into the net when the heavy catch dragged the top of the net below the surface. Scores of them also patrolled outside the net waiting to get in.

Full story with video here.

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