Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Kayakers welcome sea lions, salmon for dinner

Sunset, sea lions, and fresh salmon for dinner – could be Carmel, but this is Sacramento-by-the-sea, at least for a few weeks. Salmon are making their way up the rivers to spawn.  And some hungry sea lions are waiting for them. That made for an interesting nature paddle this week near downtown Sacramento. The roar of traffic from I-5 did sound a bit like the ocean.
As some frustrated fishermen watched from shore, several sea lions positioned themselves at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers, the perfect spot to intercept large salmon during their fall run.

Sea lion pokes snout out of river at sunset, waits for next salmon

A kayak pal and I launched from Discovery Park to paddle upstream on the Sacramento. Got back just in time for sunset and the dinner bell – in this case, a lot of snorting and flipper-slapping in the water. We watched a sea lion catch a good-sized salmon, then methodically tear it to pieces by whipping it back and forth in the water. The big critter then gracefully swam after chunks of fish that flew off. It was like a dog playing with a ball or a stick.
As uninvited guests, we tried to keep our kayaks at a respectful distance.  (Photos and video taken with a zoom lens.) While sea lions may lack the opposable thumbs conducive to delicate table manners, they are big, aggressive, and deceptively fast in the water for their bulk. One good-sized fellow surfaced near us so quickly and quietly there was no time to react. We remained still. Very still.
Think giant pitbull, with flippers
A bit earlier, as we rounded the corner at a marina upstream on the Sacramento River, we suddenly came upon a much larger sea lion that was snoozing on a dock. It awoke with a thunderous roar and reared its massive head back, teeth bared. Think 600-pound pitbull with flippers and without a leash.
Thankfully, it stayed on the dock. My paddling bud, even closer to the monster than I, kept his cool and calmly turned his bow away. But I gained a real appreciation for my bilge pump – water’s not the only thing you may need to bail out of your boat.
© 2012 Glenn Brank