Experts say sea lion bites uncommon after swimmer injured in SF Bay

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A swimmer was severely injured after being bit in the arm by a sea lion in the Bay on Thursday afternoon.

The 56-year-old man was swimming beyond the cove at Aquatic Park and was bitten around 1:45 p.m.

"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 the man 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. 

The swimmer was then transported to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. 

The victim is expected to be OK, according to San Francisco fire. 

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. 

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.

Leslie Dyste and Alyana Gomez contributed to this story.