Remember all the sea lions on a Ballard pier? They probably won’t come back

Joy is fleeting.

The flowers are fading.

Memories fade.

Exuberant sea lions are chased out of public view by a wealthy real estate developer, as he tries to sell a saltwater plot for $700,000.

Do you remember the sea lions hanging out at Ballard, on a floating jetty in Shilshole Bay? They had been there for months last winter and spring; 60 sea lions, according to some estimates. Bark, bleat, bray, bask.

They’re gone now, and it’s no one’s fault but Mother Nature.

California sea lions have ventured into southern Pacific coastal waters in anticipation of the summer mating season. But they will return to Puget Sound in the winter. When they do, they won’t have the same welcoming platform, in public view, to hang out on.

It’s the work of John Goodman, a local property manager who owns the private marina near where the sea lions have congregated. Goodman, who did not respond to requests for comment, also has the support of state regulatory agencies, which want to discourage sea lions from congregating in migrating salmon passage areas.

The floating jetty that served as a home base for pinnipeds serves as a breakwater for Goodman’s Golden Tides Marina, a small collection of docks that can accommodate a handful of boats. But this pier is no longer the flat, welcoming surface it once was.

The comfortable platform was replaced last week with a large corrugated plastic pipe, running the full length of the pier. The pipe would appear to make it impossible, or at least very uncomfortable, for one sea lion, let alone dozens, to use the pier for respite.

It’s not easy to bask on a curved, convex piece of hard, ribbed plastic.

Wherever sea lions settle upon their return, it likely won’t be within easy viewing distance of a large public dock. It’s a rare thing – the chance to safely see a large wild predator – the charismatic megafauna – in its natural habitat, right in the heart of a big city.

Nothing gold can stay, wrote Robert Frost.

The floating pier, or more accurately, the land under the water below the pier, is actually owned by the state Department of Natural Resources. The DNR rent the property at Golden Tides for about $5,400 a year.

DNR spokeswoman Sarah Ford said she supported the changes because migrating salmon pass through the area.

“The MNR and other regulators discourage structures that provide artificial refuge for predators of salmon populations along this migratory corridor,” Ford wrote. “The tenant has made these changes which is permitted and we support it as it improves the protection of salmon along the Ballard Locks.”

Goodman, a major local developer who has owned more than 40,000 apartments, was among the biggest spenders in last year’s mayoral election, contributing, along with a business partner, nearly $200,000 to PACs supporting pro candidates. -companies.

Over the years, he has repeatedly clashed with tenant organizations, who have accused him of buying apartment complexes and immediately hiking rents. The the marina has been the scene of tenant protests in the past, and candidates for mayor, city attorney and city council demonstrated outside Goodman’s real estate offices last year.

Goodman is well within his rights to put in place hostile architecture in an attempt to repel sea lions. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, which has helped California sea lion populations rebound from as few as 10 000 half a century ago to around 300,000 today, prohibits the harassment or killing of sea lions.

But owners can try to keep them away, as long as they don’t hurt them. Barriers, fences, noisemakers, sprinklers, pyrotechnics, cattle prods, pepper spray – all are generally permitted as deterrents, under federal law.

Ben Anderson, spokesman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the large piece of piping is definitely allowed and it would be interesting to see if it has a deterrent effect.

“Sea lions are large animals and can be destructive to property when congregated in sufficient numbers, so WDFW supports the use of appropriate deterrents where necessary,” Anderson said. “They’re certainly fun to watch, but they can also be messy, noisy and have a strong smell, so there are a variety of reasons a homeowner (or neighbors) might want to keep them away.”

Preventative measures, Anderson said, are always preferable to anything that could damage property or compromise safety.

WDFW Atlas of seal and sea lion haulouts in Washingtonpublished in 2000, notes that they have been coming to this area for years.

In southern Puget Sound, “California’s premier sea lion haulout and rafting site
The area is located near Shilshole Bay Marina,” writes the atlas.

They have long been fond of the southern tip of the Shilshole Bay Marina breakwater.

An employee of Surf Ballard, the surf shop down the street, said the sea lions are a top attraction for paddleboarders: “Everyone wants to go see the sea lions.”

Doug Zellers, general manager and co-owner of Ray’s Boathouse, the venerable fine-dining restaurant next to the sea lions, had likened them to pre-dinner entertainment. Guests, as soon as they got out of their cars, couldn’t help but hear the hoarse cries of sea mammals.

And the sea lions put on a show. They frequently drew a small crowd, watching the show from the large public dock overlooking the pier.

The sea lions jumped out of the water, propelling themselves onto the floating jetty. They were playing for room, pushing and barking.

Some would be lying face down with their eyes closed, carefree. Others arched their backs, pointing their noses skyward, as if a yoga teacher had told them to hold the pose. They shouted out their concerns, their feelings, to each other, to the neighborhood, to the world.

The floating pier is an unstable platform. It would tilt and threaten to spin like a floating log, throwing the pinnipeds back into the water. They tossed their strap aside, trying to regain their balance. They would go too far, their collective mass turning the pier the other way, threatening to throw them all out the other side.

It was like the zoo, but free. And without any nagging ethical concerns about caged animals.

“One of the best things we have here is the views and the wildlife,” Zellers said. “I thought they were funny, it was like a comedy show, it was pretty cool.”

But he had also spoken to people in the neighborhood who had small boats sunk by the collective weight of sea lions. Two people, he said, had seen their docks dripping with grease.

“Am I disappointed they put this on?” he said of the new pipe. “Not really. I understand that you are trying to protect your property.

Speaking of property, Marina Golden Tides currently has a briefs for sale. It is a strip of salt water, with access to a dock and a few parking spaces. It includes electricity and fresh water connections and is large enough for a 100ft yacht. It could be yours for $699,000.

Signs on the pier, citing city and state law, prohibit trespassing and warn that violators will be prosecuted. The sea lions thumbed their noses at the powers that be. The powers that be have fought back.

Charles P. Patton