Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Is this sea lion off Bainbridge playing with his food?

November 14th, 2013 by cdunagan

When I first took a look at this video, I thought the sea lion might be amusing himself by tossing the sizable salmon in the air. But why would he be doing something like that?

The more likely scenario is that the sea lion was tearing off chunks of flesh, because the fish was too large to eat whole, according to Dyanna Lambourn of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“That is really common to see this behavior with the larger fish,” she said in an email. “They put on quite a show. The gulls are picking up the little scraps.”

The video was taken from Point White near the south end of Bainbridge Island by Zach Aho, who had paddled across the water from Illahee. The tossing of the fish, which went on for more than five minutes, occurred on Oct. 29. Zach’s father, Jim Aho, uploaded the video to YouTube.

I mentioned to Dyanna that I have seen videos of killer whales tossing their prey about, sometimes playfully, sometimes while sharing food. In this case, the sea lion was alone, so obviously sharing was not a factor.

Dyanna said sea lions are not known to share food, unless it is a mom sharing food with her pup.

“I have seen sea lions eating on the same fish,” she said, “but it seems to me to be more stealing or sneaking bits rather than willingly sharing food — especially when you’re talking about adult male sea lions…

“I do think that they communicate where the abundant food is, because usually you will see their numbers increase over time,” she added. “As we well know, there are several examples of this.”

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One Response to “Is this sea lion off Bainbridge playing with his food?”

  1. Bob Triggs Says:

    I have to agree with the notion that the seals are tearing the fish apart by shaking them. I have the opportunity to observe seals feeding most of the year here on the saltchuck. They don’t waste a bit of it. And yes, other seals will feed on scraps that drift away or down in the water, even at significant distance from the seal that is doing the killing and tearing apart of the fish. The concept that the seals are “playing” with their prey is,I think, an anthropomorphism.

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