2nd sea lion attacks in San Francisco Bay; swimmer bit Friday morning

Image 1 of 3

Two sea lion attacks have occurred in the past two days in the San Francisco Bay at Aquatic Park.  

The second sea lion attack occurred Friday morning. A man was taken to a trauma center with non-life threatening injuries. Marine mammal specialists aren't sure if the same sea lion was responsible for the second attack. 

Swimmers in the area identified the man as Rick Mulvaney. He was bit in the groin. 

Additional details on that attack have not yet been released.

In the first attack, 56-year-old Christian Einfeldt was swimming beyond the cove at Aquatic Park and was bitten around 1:45 p.m. Thursday. 

Einfeldt, an attorney and experienced swimmer who has been coming to the area for more than two years, tells KTVU he feared for his life when he was bit by the sea lion. The attack happened about a quarter mile from the shore. 

"I turned around and saw a large male bull sea lion. Close to me. I became concerned. He was a big bull," said Einfeldt..

Einfeldt says he kept shouting "No' to the sea lion. But the sea lion came at him.

"His head slid down my arm. Fortunately he only got one tooth into my arm," said Einfeldt.

"He was swimming and said a sea lion came up to him and he splashed water on it and it didn't work. He yelled at it and then the sea lion came up and bit him on the arm and he used his arm to push him away and then it went away and he never saw it again after that," said Matthew Reiter with San Francisco Police Department's Marine Unit. 

A sailboat happened to be nearby and saw the swimmer in distress, so he pulled Einfeldt onto his boat and immediately called police.

Police told the captain of that boat to bring him to the Hyde Street pier. 

John Baxter with the San Francisco Fire Department tells KTVU several tourniquets were applied to the swimmer in an attempt to stop the bleeding. The tourniquet was applied by SFPD at Pier 45.

The swift actions by emergency crews contributed to the swimmer's life being saved, according to San Francisco Fire. 

Einfeldt was then transported to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. He has a nickel sized hole of exposed muscle on his arm. 

Einfeldt tells KTVU he'll be out swimming again at Aquatic Park after he recovers.  

KTVU spoke to a couple of swimmers in the area who say seeing sea lions in the water is more common than before. They say if they see a sea lion in the water, they swim the other way and don't make eye contact because they will rush a swimmer and bump them. 

The swimmers speculate that mating season could be one reason why the sea lions are seemingly more aggressive than normal. There are other theories that swimmers here may be impacting the sea lions.

"It's really hard to speculate, but any time you are interacting with a wild animal there is always a possibility of getting bit," said Shawn Johnso, a Marine Mammal Center veterinarian. 

Johnson did say one possibility could be an algae-caused  neurotoxin in the water called domoic acid.

"It can go to the brain and cause brain damage. That can change the behavior of sea lions," said Johnson.

Dr. Claire Simeon, a veterinarian with the Marine Mammal Center, published a study with the University of California at San Francisco in 2015 looking at sea lion and seal bites and scratches.

She said researchers talking to the members of two San Francisco swim clubs found only 11 such incidents over a period of three years, and one of those had actually taken place in Washington.

The study found no clear patterns or common causes among the incidents. While it was clear that approaching the animals could cause negative reactions, many of the swimmers did not appear to have done anything to provoke the attack.

"As these animals are wild, their behavior can be erratic," Simeon said.

Experts recommend that swimmers and beach goers try to maintain a safe distance from seals and sea lions, as they have sharp teeth and a strong bite.

"I don't think that people should be afraid to go into the water," Simeon said. "We're lucky to be able to share our coastline with these amazing animals."

"We really want people to leave seals be and enjoy the bay," Simeon said.

The SFPD Marine Unit will be advising local swim clubs of the incident.