San Francisco’s disappearing sea lions

Have you ever been to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco? Hundreds of seals bask in the sun there and make a huge racket; it’s awesome. But my twin sister, who lives out there, told me that the sea lions have disappeared. They’ve all just…left. Biologists have no idea why. Some people wonder if an earthquake might be coming (I hope not), but no one really knows. Isn’t that bizarre? (Update: They may have ended up in Oregon.)

P.S. My sister and I took this photo-booth shot at Fisherman’s Wharf, and we could hear the sea lions barking the whole time.

(Photos by Janet Smith and yosemitewu56)

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  27. Anonymous says...

    The seals left b/c the food supply is dwindling. They need to eat you know?

  28. hi californians!

    i hope the sea lions make it out of oregon alive! Fish and Wildlife is going to start trapping and killing sea lions again this year, blaming the loss of salmon on sea lions instead of on dams, overfishing, and pollution, ugh!

  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. That’s so terrible. I fell in love with SF the first time I visited and the sea lions were one of the city’s highlights for me. I do hope they come back!

  31. Aw, I have been there to see the sea lions! So sad that they up and left… hopefully they visit once in a while!

  32. there definitely may be an earth quake coming…we’ve had a ton of little ones recently one kind of bigger one…not fun when you’re on the top floor of your building at work

  33. The pacific coast is experiencing an el nino year with characteristically warmer waters moving north and therefore all of the species that like colder, nutrient rich waters are heading north too. The sea lions are probably just following their fish food (anchovies mainly) up to Oregon. There has been all sorts of weird stuff like green sea turtles finding themselves stranded on the oregon coast because they get into a pocket of warm water and travel north only to find themselves way far away from home! Seeing that many sea lions at once is pretty amazing and even more amazing when you start thinking about how far they travel each day just to find a good meal :)

  34. I hope it’s not because an earthquake is coming! It is very strange though.:)-Jennifer

  35. WOW! It’s really bizarre, may be they really feel that something is going to happened soon, earth needs helps!

  36. Isn’t it strange how nature works? We saw the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, CA. These awesome creatures just showed up there in 1990 and ever since, they come here twice a year to molt, breed and give birth. Definitely a place worth visiting! Read about it here: Hopefully the seals in SF will show up again in the future!

  37. this doesn’t seem like a good sign and is very sad- please keep us updated!

  38. that’s terribly sad.
    i wonderful where they’ve gone.

  39. I heard this story recently and it hurts my heart.

    My boyfriend and I are planning a Spring visit to San Fran I hope their visit to Oregon is temporary as this was one of the things I couldn’t wait to see at the Wharf!

  40. I live in San Francisco Bay Area and have been wondering about this weird phenomenon. I really hope it doesn’t mean anything dark. I love my little city by the bay.
    Love your blog…always.

  41. how strange! i was there a couple of months ago & they were definitely there, basking in the sun as usual. man, does it stink!!

  42. i’m hoping they left because they were tired of people staring at them not because an earthquake is coming

  43. that’s not good. I miss SF. I’m from there and lived there for 23 years. my heart belongs there and my sister adores the sea lions! it’s a bit scary since norcal just had back to back minor earthquakes in the past couple of days.

  44. i grew up in the bay area and fondly remember the seals at the wharf {even if they were a bit smelly!}. i’ll miss ’em this march when we go back for a visit, but i’m glad my kiddies were able to see them two years ago. thanks for posting :)

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  46. What? I was just there this past August where my boys and I were admiring the sea lions! How recently did they depart?

  47. oh no. seals are big part of san francisco.

  48. Bellé says...

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  49. I love the kissing sea lions…so cute. I hope they’re ok…I heard on the news there was an earthquake in Cali the other day but I cant remember where it was. Hope all is right.

  50. i’ve never been to san francisco but i’d love to see it…the picture is beautiful as for the sea lions i dont really know its kinda weird..

  51. No way! I live here in San Francisco and I wasn’t aware of this. Now I’ll have to walk down the hill and see for myself. Maybe they do know something (earthquake) we don’t know and I should dance my booty out of here too.

  52. That’s so weird! I read in an article that they had followed a food source to the pier and then left when the food source depleted but no one knows for sure!

  53. keep us posted- would ya? very curious

  54. I’ve heard about this; it’s so strange. These are the most stunning photographs! :)

  55. i hate to see them leave the wharf but i think they’ve migrated for some reason to the sea lion caves near my home-town, florence oregon.

  56. ahh! I looked and thought these were my photos!

    they are gone? any idea how long ago? actually, I never knew how long they have been there. gonna do some research! :)


  57. Nooooo! I was just there this summer and fell in LOVE with them!

  58. that is so sad! the sea lions are one of my favorite things about san francisco.

    i always wonder if things like this are connected to what we’re doing to the environment… it’s pretty troubling!

  59. I was just there for a visit in December. My brother spoke to some of the locals in the area who said that they’ve been bringing dogs to the piers (who bark a lot) to scare them away because they were becoming a nuisance even though they have been a staple of the city.

  60. Hey Joanna! I live in San Francisco and wrote about this fascinating mystery several weeks ago. Last week we had a few earthquakes — including one with an epicenter way out in the ocean, which I’m thinking must’ve been the reason they left. They’re hiding out in a cove up in Oregon for now, but I’ll bet once they decide it’s safe in the Bay Area again… They’ll come back!

  61. Yeah, thats really weird. I was ust there a little over a year ago and I thought it was so weird how many there were. And to think that ALLLLLL of those seals are now gone…even more weird.

  62. Oh no thats so sad – they were so stinky but so much fun to watch! I loved san francisco, I would go back in a second!
    The Eagle at Pier 39 is a great place to eat, you can sit at the window and watch out over all the people walking by. The banana pecan french toast is so yummy!

  63. thats SO weird! I was just there a few months ago and there were tons of them. i thought they were so cute

  64. I grew up in the Bay Area and my visits to Fisherman’s Wharf were some of my favorite SF memories. It’s heart breaking that they’re gone. Thank you for the sweet pic!

  65. I have always always wanted to go here. I wish they would stop disappearing so I could see them one day! No! So sad!
    I do hope they are OK though, wherever they are.

  66. I’ve been hearing and reading about this. So sad! I hope they come back! I’ve heard rumors that their sudden disappearance can be accredited to global warming affecting their food supply. Hope not!

  67. I was there last weekend and almost all of the piers that are usually filled with seals are empty:-(

  68. this is so strange! everytime i go to san fran, we do the obligatory fisherman’s wharf tour, and i love watching the seals. i found it very zen for some reason, despite their weird barking.

  69. I live quite close to the Fisherman’s Warf and we could hear the sea lions every night, quite clearly. They are very loud and goofy, especailly if the night is warm. There was supposed to be exactly 1701 sea lions in the last count, and all of a sudden there were half a dozen. Quite shocking! Several days ago there was an article on the front page of SF Chronicle – Thousand of sea lions turn up on Oregon coast – are they ours!? Ha! They were spotted about 500 miles north of the Golden Gate, all 2000 of them. At Sea Lion Caves, a private preserve near the town of Florence. It seems that they left SF as there was a shortage of herring and the waters wer too warm for them. Here is the link to the article:

  70. In San Diego our own little seal residence was moved out by annoyed residents who could no longer deal with the sound :( so sad!

  71. jb says...

    Hi Joanna — just a quick “FYI” — seals are quite different from sea lions. These are sea lions. :)

  72. It’s funny that you should post that maybe the sea lions are gone because an earthquake may be coming because we just had three earthquakes last week.

  73. Probably someone already said this…they’re apparently Italian & want to make bagna cauda with anchovies up the coast…I hope they go back at some point. I enjoy them when in SF.


  74. Oh no!!!!! Thank you for sharing, how interesting!

  75. Wow! It would be great to experience it!

  76. I’ve been going to Pier 39 since I was a kid and we always went to see the sea lions. They were such an institution there that it’s surreal that they’re gone. But boy, did they smell!

  77. Ah, this is just another reason I’ve always wanted to go to SF!

  78. That’s so scary… it’s really making me wonder more and more if that whole Mayan theory and the 2012 is really true. With the bees dying, the sudden disappearance of seals, the stranger than ever weather. I don’t like to get paranoid but I sure hope that our planet pulls through.

  79. Wow ~ so crazy. We visited SF a few years ago (lovely city) and we visited the sea lions just about every day ~ strange to think of them gone, but I hope they are just following anchioves and it’s not something more severe!

  80. That is rather bizarre! I hope they come back! Pier 39 is one of my most favorite places in the world. Well, okay, anywhere in San Francisco is my favorite place in the world! :) and I am absolutely thrilled you are having a baby boy!

  81. It’s a very sad thought.

  82. Really sad, really strange…

  83. I just went there for the first time last April and could hear the seals before I even saw them. Then looking out onto the water there were so many of them. It was awesome. I am sad they are gone.

  84. saw an article on this I think in national geographic. so sad. i havent been there though….
    take care.

  85. I’ve been, although not recently as it’s so touristy, but I loved the seals so this makes me sad.

    I hope to god this isn’t a sign of an earthquake…

  86. oh my gosh! I love the wharf and have been a couple of times but obviously not recently. so sad they’re gone!

  87. Oh no! I’m flying out there for the first time this Thursday and was hoping to see them. Does anyone have any recommendations for good restaurants to try while I’m out there? I’d like to do a fancy dinner one night.

  88. james was just telling me about this! pretty incredible.

  89. Just came to post that they seem to have moved up to Oregon, but it looks like others have already provided the link…

  90. They are so noisy, hahaha – we could hear them from the other side of the board walk! But I wonder where they all went?

  91. That is so weird. They were just such a part of that area; I loved seeing them on our trips down there. Hopefully it’s not some big earthquake coming.

  92. oooh, interesting about the anchovies!

  93. I’ve never been to San Francisco so I NEVER heard of the seals doing this. Awww they must have been soo cute!!! That’s odd that they just left?!?!?!?!

  94. i live right near pier 39 in sf and i used to hear them at night! ;( so sad.

  95. the same thing happened somewhere in south america where seals had just disappeared around the time after a major earthquake. i believe this happened before as well in sf. i hope that’s not the case. i’ve experienced a 7.1 once in my lifetime and that was absolutely nuts.

  96. Anonymous says...

    The are following the anchovies! It looks like the sea lions have been leaving since sometime in late October…

    I do miss them. I would just watch them and make up a dialogue between the sea lions especially when it was obvious one wasn’t welcome on a playform.

    I’m from SF, so it is sad because that is usually a place we take people to visit. We recently had two visitors and we didn’t stop there.

  97. That is so sad. We went there in April and I fell in love with the city!! My daughter absolutely LOVED watching them! She wanted to stay there all day just to watch them swin, play, and listen to them bark.

  98. I heard they showed up somewhere off the coast of Oregan & it might be due to the water temperature. I don’t remember where I read it though, otherwise I would include the link…

  99. i just read a few days ago that they were found chilling out on the coast in oregon. cooler waters, perhaps?


  100. Those seals are the heart and soul of Pier 39! I hope they come back …

  101. Well, actually there has been an earthquake – 4.5 in Fremont, and 6.5 in Eureka…

    They sure booked it outta here!

  102. how many days ago did they take off? there was a big earthquake (6.5) on saturday off the coast near my hometown in eureka, ca which is just a few hours north of SF…

  103. It is really terrible! I was born and raised in the Bay Area, and have fond memories of walking around the pier with my family to watch the seals – I hope they come back (without any earthquake preceding their return!)

  104. They say big disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis are preceded by the flight of animals. I hope that isn’t the case here! SF is such a *beautiful* city.

  105. That’s funny! Just 5 seconds ago I posted a blog about our upcoming trip to San Fran! so an earthquake better not be coming :)

  106. that’s extremely strange {and sad}. In the past, have the seals left before an earthquake occurred? They do say animals have a sixth sense…

  107. they’ve been there since 1989. they apparently just showed up!

  108. this is scary and sad. i will miss them if they are not back next time i go. it would be interesting to know how long they were hanging there.

  109. really? wow, that’s crazy. it must feel so empty and quiet!

  110. Cole and I stopped there while driving around CA on our honeymoon. That is really spooky actually. A little seal ghost town.