In October 1989 right after the Loma Prieta earthquake, sea lions started showing up on K-Dock at San Francisco's Pier 39. By January 1990, the barking, blubbery marine mammals had all but taken over the floating decks and they've been there ever since.
Though no one knows exactly why the sea lions decided to call K-Dock home but many find it interesting that their arrival coincided with the earthquake. Whatever the reason, hundreds of sea lions have called Pier 39 home for 27 years. Tourists and residents alike gather to watch them snort, bark and get into flipper fisticuffs on the floating wooden decks.
Initially, marina tenants of Pier 39 were not very pleased with the loud, pushy squatters who'd encroached without invitation. The Marina staff asked The Marine Mammal Center for advice. The Center is an organization that rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals and their advice was: let the sea lions stay.
As word spread among the sea lions about their newfound home, more and more began to arrive. Within a few months, there were about 300 sea lions at K-Dock and in November 2009, the number hit a record 1,701! The number ebbs and flows with each season but it is pretty much a given that there will be sea lions huddling together at Pier 39 on any given day. In winter, there can be close to 1,000 at the West Marina, most of which are male. In summer, they migrate to the Channel Islands but in recent years, there is always a small group that 'holds down the fort' here at home.
Now, almost 30 years later, these animated creatures offer entertainment in exchange for their new home. The marina offers them protection from the Bay and its predators as well as an abundant food supply. These mischievous marine mammals are world-famous. There is a page on the Pier 39 website dedicated to the sea lions and they even have their own live webcam. The newly formed Sea Lion Center operated by the Aquarium of the Bay, allows visitors to learn more about these endearing creatures. Naturalists from the Aquarium are at K-Dock daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 11am to 4pm to answer questions and share interesting facts about these San Francisco 'sea-lebrities.'.