A swimmer was hospitalized after being bitten on the arm by a seal lion in a rare attack in the waters off Aquatic Park on Thursday, San Francisco police said.
The man had been swimming Thursday afternoon when a sea lion came at him and he felt threatened, he told police. The swimmer began splashing water at the animal to get it away, Police Officer Matthew Reiter said during a news conference on the incident.
"When it didn't work, he yelled at it and then the sea lion came up and bit him on the arm," said Reiter, a member of the department's marine unit.
He said the man then used his arm to push the animal away and it left. People aboard a nearby sailboat rescued the swimmer and called the Coast Guard.
"The boat saved his life," Reiter said. "Had that boat not seen him, this could have been a different story."
Authorities directed the boat to come in, and Reiter applied a tourniquet in an attempt to stop heavy bleeding. The swimmer was transported to a hospital "with a serious extremity injury," the San Francisco Fire Department said in a tweet.
A San Francisco police officer tweeted that several officers assigned to the marine unit recently became certified EMTs and that tourniquets are now part of trauma kits available to patrol officers.
The swimmer was talking the whole time, Reiter said.
"He was more worried about his clothes on the beach than he was about anything else," he said. "It was a good sign."
The swimmer was not in a wetsuit, but in a regular bathing suit. Reiter said an attack like this is "not common at all."
"I've only been part of the unit for two years now and I haven't had a single sea lion or wildlife attack like this," Reiter said.
California sea lions are "unpredictable and can become aggressive quickly," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
"They have sharp teeth and may bite, particularly if cornered, harassed, sick, or if protecting their young. Sea lions can be playful, however they can also be territorial and dangerous especially during the mating seasons," the agency said.
NOAA advises swimmers to stay 50 yards away from free swimming seals and sea lions.
In March 2015, a 5-year-old boy suffered a minor puncture to his jaw when he attempted to touch a sea lion at La Jolla Cove.
In April that year, a 62-year-old man was bitten and pulled into the water by a sea lion at Mission Bay. The man had been posing for a picture with a trophy fish when the sea lion leaped out of the water and, while attempting to snatch the large fish, bit the man, pulling him into the water.
In May of this year, a sea lion grabbed a little girl off a dock in British Columbia and dragged her into the water. A video of the attack went viral.
"I've been around the bay for my whole life and I've not heard of many incidences like this," Reiter said about the San Francisco attack. "I'd just tell people to stay away from the wildlife if they can, swim in pairs if you can."