Boats go sailing in and out of the harbours in Washington State in the U.S. so frequently it’s rare that people pay much attention to who is at the helm.
And in those waters and along the shores, sea lions can often be spotted sunning themselves, howling and honking and happily making so much noise they sound more like enthusiastic cheerleaders for the captains and crews than one of nature’s most lovable creatures.
They are also known for swimming alongside many boats, large or small, one of the sea’s most welcoming animals who seem, more than anything else, to just want to say hello and wish sailors a safe journey.
In December, 2019, on what seemed like any other ordinary, blustery and wintry day in the waters off Olympia, Washington, several Stellar sea lions did more than just wave hello to a boat; two of them apparently purloined the craft from its spot in the harbour.
Why they decided to take over the controls and make their way out to sea is anybody’s guess, but video footage taken by a quick witted bystander caught their antics on camera, and promptly made the furry thieves go viral.
But the boat wasn’t big enough, apparently, for these lovable robbers. The vessel couldn’t handle their massive weight – Stellars can weigh in anywhere from 580 pounds to as much as 1,200 – because soon the boat appeared destined for the bottom of Eld Inlet. But the craft, actually a small sailboat, stayed afloat, at least as long as those on shore were able to film the episode.
Josh Phillips, owner of a local business called “Spawn Fly Fish,” had his phone handy and took video of the two sea lions making their way out of the bay. He posted the video and it took off on the Internet, garnering hundreds of likes on his Facebook page.
Phillips said that the boat did indeed sink, and he surmised its owner would not be too happy to hear about the robbery by these animals, no matter how adorable their antics might look on You Tube. Another observer caught footage of a third sea lion swimming alongside, as if to applaud his “comrades” heist and say “good luck!”
It isn’t unusual for sea lions to climb aboard boats, if the sides are low enough for them to launch themselves up and forward.
These are incredibly agile and social creatures, not only among themselves but also with man; they show little fear, and there are countless examples on You Tube of sea lions hurtling themselves aboard an unsuspecting individual’s small fishing vessel.
Sea lions’ bodies have blood vessels in their fins that absorb heat and sunlight that ultimately makes it way into their circulatory systems, thereby keeping them warm.
They come on shore (and on boats) not only to be social and interact, but to avoid those who would happily chow down on them for a noon meal. Those predators include sharks and orcas, who lurk just under the surface by the water’s edge hoping a pup will get close enough for them to gobble.
The sudden change in temperature from a freezing ocean to a milder shore doesn’t faze sea lions one bit; they are experts at a process called thermoregulation, which is the capacity to alter body temperature almost instantly, so the creature doesn’t freeze, or overheat, whichever is necessary in the moment.
Nature has given them this talent because they are, after all, mammals who need air to breathe a place to give birth and feed their young.
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They must be able to live in just about any climate, from the freezing temperatures of winter in Washington’s waters to the balmy climes of a hot summer along its shores. They are yet another example of nature’s amazing array of friendly and smart animals, a fine example of why conservation of our oceans is so vitally important.