Hidden away on the Oregon Coast, the Sea Lion Caves is a 12-story high sea cave that is the largest in the world, as identified by the Guinness Book of World Records. The cave is a year-round home for Steller Sea Lions, as well as California Sea Lions in the fall and winter. These beasts are BIG.
We were left to wonder: do sea lions bite humans?
While most imagine sharks and boat motors as the most likely causes of massive hemorrhage during a day at the beach, we would like to remind Western US residents that the California Sea Lion, with males weighing 770 lbs and 8 feet long, can also cause significant injury. Stellar Sea Lion males can weigh up to 2,500 pounds and be 12 feet long.
During two months in 2018, four sea lion attacks involving humans occurred in San Francisco Aquatic Cove. Two of the four bites were anatomically in areas at risk for massive hemorrhage. One involved significant soft tissue damage to the antecubital fossa and the other was a bite to the inguinal area, where on exploration the femoral artery was “narrowly missed.”
Though not typically aggressive to humans, attacks can occur for several reasons: illness, hormonal changes related to breeding, and human desensitization.
Like most animals, sea lion mouths contain numerous flora and bites are at risk for polymicrobial infections. A novel Mycoplasma species has been isolated from their mouths and bites. Historically tetracycline has been used as antibiotic prophylaxis for this organism. Because these wounds are also associated with seawater contamination an antibiotic with broader coverage is frequently co-administered. Generally, patients are treated with Doxycycline and Levaquin.
Rabies has never been described in the California Sea Lion.
See a nice review of these bites in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, December 2019.
For a video to terrify your children into staying near you at the beach, you can see a 13-year old girl being attacked in a CNN video https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2019/06/20/sea-lion-bites-teen-pkg.ksby
Or this one when a sea lion caught in a net is released and attacks both men and a dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBZ_X0MxYOY
And this one showing a little girl pulled off a dock, a man bitten on the arm, and a discussion of what to do if you’re attacked (Note, it’s Inside Edition, so use your judgment on the reliability of the information). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKbIKEVsvUE