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Sea lion that bit teen girl at Pismo Beach receiving treatment

Posted at 12:50 PM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 21:51:59-04

The Marine Mammal Center says a sea lion believed to be the same animal that bit a teenage girl in the leg is currently undergoing treatment for domoic acid toxicosis.

The unusual attack occurred last Friday at Pismo Beach.

An iPhone Live photo of the incident shows a sea lion charging out of the water at the girl as she dances in the surf, biting her on the thigh.

A sea lion charges at Megan Pagnini in the water at Pismo Beach. (Photo courtesy Pagnini family)


The girl was taken to the hospital for treatment and the animal was rounded up and turned over to The Marine Mammal Center.

“Domoic acid can cause California sea lions to show erratic and unpredictable behavior so it’s especially important that beachgoers are vigilant and keep a safe distance,” said Dr. Shawn Johnson, the Center’s Vice President of Veterinary Medicine and Science. “Negative sea lion interactions with humans are really rare, we’re very glad to hear that the girl is recovering and can only imagine how scary this must have been for her.”

The sea lion was also reportedly seen biting at sticks and at the metal lifeguard stand on the beach.

According to The Marine Mammal Center’s website, the organization rescued five sea lions in the Pismo Beach and Oceano Dunes area on Friday alone. All were adult females and at least four have been diagnosed with domoic acid intoxication.

The sea lion believed to be responsible for biting the girl is reportedly in rehabilitative care at the Center’s Sausalito facility and is receiving high levels of anti-seizure medications.

Dr. Johnson says the animal’s bloodwork is normal but it will be several days before neurologic evaluations can be done to determine how much brain damage she has suffered. That will determine whether the sea lion can be released back into the wild as a healthy sea lion exhibiting normal behavior.

Large numbers of sick sea lions have been found on Central Coast beaches in the past few weeks.

Experts say many are suffering from domoic acid poisoning. The toxin targets the mammal’s central nervous system and brain, making them disoriented, and can even cause seizures.

Domoic acid is a result of a naturally-occurring algae. Marine mammals become sick after consuming shellfish or small fish like sardines and anchovies that have ingested the algae.

A California sea lion suffering from domoic acid toxicosis. (Photo courtesy Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute)


Marine wildlife rescue groups say this is also sea lion breeding season so they are seeing an influx of young sea lions that are malnourished.

On Friday, The Marine Mammal Center took in two young sea lions from Morro Strand State Beach that were both found to be suffering from malnutrition.

If you see a marine mammal in distress in San Luis Obispo County, call the Marine Mammal Center’s hotline at (415) 289-SEAL. In Santa Barbara County, call the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institution rescue hotline at (805) 567-1505.