From time to time, I travel out to Oregon to see family. No, the sea lions in the title are not members of my family; they rejected me. I visited the town of Newport, which has a great beach with breakers that start waaaaay out and come foaming and crashing in all day long. My guide and daughter Sarah took us on a down and around and down and in and out route and finally ended up in a quaint, charming, tourist gotcha street bordering an actual working fish harbor.
There’s where we saw the sea lions. Some one with an eye for the comfort of the sea lions and for what tourists like had built some sea lion homes out of boards. They were boardwalks, only they were floating in the harbor just under the dock we walked out on. We could look into the sea lions’ home life from about thirty feet up. Now I know how those aliens in UFO’s must feel as they xray our bedrooms at night.
I guess there were thirty sea lions who had set up housekeeping there, which consisted mostly of lounging about and occasionally giving a loud, harsh, raspy bark, kinda like a large dog with a sore throat. Sea lions, for those of you who don’t know about such things, are just like seals, except they really need to diet. There heads aren’t much larger than a seal’s, and shaped the same, but from the neck down the body bloats so that they look like they’ve been sucking on an air hose. In the water, they are sleek and graceful, out of the water, they’re sacks of blubber. They enter the water easily but in getting out they look like a comedy skit. You try hauling 500 pounds of blubber out of the water with two hands shaped like Japanese fans and see how you look.
What kept me, and everybody else riveted to the dock was not how the sea lions looked or swam, nor the noises they made, but their social activity. Apparently, the criterion of social standing for a sea lion is space. If you have no social standing, you are crowded on the boardwalk like New Yorkers in a subway. If you have high standing, you get room to stretch out. One old guy who weighed in the neighborhood of 600 pounds had about 10 feet of boardwalk all for himself, out of a total of maybe 60 feet all together. On the other hand, there were 15 skinnier, younger, low-on-the-list sea lions in the 10 feet next to him.
The main activity of the group seemed centered around getting more space. Those who had it defended it by biting at interlopers, or simply bumping them off the board with their (I assume) hips and shoulders. Those who didn’t have space tried to get it, and having gotten it, enlarged it. One poor little sea lion spent most of his time in the water. He would furtively poke his snout onto the boards, and if not immediately repelled, slither up. He’d usually get about half way up when he’d get noticed and shunted back into the water.
My indignation was aroused. I wanted to shout down at them, “Look you knotheads. If you give everybody an equal share, then you can all use the boardwalk. There’s plenty for everybody. Why can’t you be rational, like humans?”
As I was thinking this, somebody squeezed into the gap between me and my daughter. I felt like giving him a good elbow in the ribs.