Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Sea Lion Boards Fishing Boat, Bites Crewman


A crewman aboard a fishing vessel tied up at the Peter Pan Seafoods dock at Sand Point was severely injured when a sea lion jumped on board, clamped onto his leg with its jaw and slammed him to the deck.

The harrowing incident aboard the F/V Cape St. Elias was reported Feb. 28 in "In the Loop," an

online publication of Alaska's Aleutians East Borough, written by AEB communications director

Laura Tanis.

Michael "Mack" McNeil, who is recuperating at home in Deer Park, Washington, said he never saw it coming. "It was the worst pain I've ever felt," he said.

Ben Ley, the vessel's owner and skipper, said the attack occurred while crewmembers were taking off a pollock net and putting on a cod net, and that there were no fish on board. "That's what's kind of eerie about this," Ley said.

Crew were moving a net forward off of the reel and stacking it so they could put it away. McNeil was standing with his back to the stern ramp, and nobody saw that a sea lion was swimming around nearby.

"This was completely out of the blue," he said. "I was running hydraulics and I walked around to clear the backlash. The sea lion came up all the way out of the water, jumped up over the stern ramp and up onto the deck, several feet up."

McNeil said the sea lion grabbed him before it even hit the deck. Other crew rushed to grab McNeil before he got closer to the stern ramp. The sea lion took a couple hops back toward the water, but then let go, McNeil said. But the sea lion had bit down to the bone.

The crew helped McNeil to the tool room and got his boots, oilskins, sweatpants and long underwear off, and called for help. McNeil was transported to the local clinic, where health care providers cleaned out the wound and stitched it up until he could get to a hospital in Anchorage. Soon afterward, he was put aboard a flight to Anchorage, where an orthopedic surgeon operated on his leg later that evening. "The muscles in my calf were partially severed, so the surgeon reattached them," McNeil said.

McNeil said he is unable to walk right now and he expects it will take at least 12 weeks for his calf muscles to heal, so he can begin physical therapy.

He still is puzzled about the unprovoked attack, because the net was clean and there were no fish

on board.

"I'm a big guy," he said. "I'm 6'3" tall. I was wearing bright orange oilskins. There's no way the sea lion could have mistaken me for a piece of fish."

NOAA's office of law enforcement in Kodiak also is puzzled by the incident.

"There was nothing that would instigate it," said Lieutenant Tim Gould, whose office is in charge of the Gulf of Alaska, from Kodiak Island to Dutch Harbor, to the exclusive economic zone bordering Russia and Japan. Gould did say that his office has received reports over the years, from Kodiak and Dutch Harbor, of fishermen getting bitten by sea lions.

NOAA officials did note cases where fishermen have dumped fish parts near docks or in harbors,

and said that as a result some sea lions may view fishing boats as a food source.

Feeding changes the natural behaviors of sea lions, decreasing their willingness to find their own food, and increasing the chances they will steal fish from fishermen. Sea lions may then lose their natural wariness of humans and associate people with food, resulting in dangerous and unpredictable behavior toward people, NOAA officials said.

The sea lions are, however, federally protected under the Marine Mammals Act, so NOAA's advice to the public is to be aware that they are aggressive animals and need to be left alone.


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