Although the 1989 San Francisco earthquake was traumatic, that terrible shake may have brought Pier 39 of Fisherman's Wharf its most famous residents. Sea lions, sometimes in the hundreds, started gathering at Pier 39 right after the quake.
The sea lions reigning over Pier 39 — Photo courtesy of Sea Lion Center
The sea lions have been posing for those eager to get a winning snapshot ever since. But besides a sign or two, no history on these amazing beasts could be found. For example, if you wanted to know the difference between a sea lion and a seal, there was no staff to help you out. (Here's one difference: sea lions propel themselves through water with large fore flippers, while seals use their hind flippers.)
The grand opening of the Sea Lion Center has changed all of that. Although there's no admission charge for this amazing resource, donations are greatly appreciated. Buying admission to the excellent Aquarium by the Bay (also on the pier) is another way to support the Sea Lion Center. The Sea Lion Center is operated and managed by Aquarium of the Bay, and both organizations are nonprofits focused on the conservation of San Francisco Bay.
President of the Sea Lion Center John Frawley, "Salty" and President of Pier 39 Taylor Safford gather at the center's grand opening — Photo courtesy of Sea Lion Center
The Sea Lion Center is run by a vibrant staff - the same energetic and informed staff that runs the Aquarium by the Bay, as a matter of fact. Not only can they answer any question on sea lions, but they also offer a fascinating overview of all the plants and animals of San Francisco Bay. (Another fun seal/sea lion difference: Sea lions have smooth whiskers, while seals have beaded or crimped whiskers.)
Sea Lion Center staff educates an inquiring mind — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
And because the bay is a delicate mix of salt water from the Pacific Ocean and snow melt from the Sierra-Nevada mountains, keeping a close eye on all of the bay inhabitants is an excellent indicator of the overall environment.
"We see the sea lions as the best ambassadors the San Francisco Bay could have," Sonja Gomez, education and volunteer manager of the Sea Lion Center explained. "Visitors and locals come for the sea lions, and we at the center and the aquarium have the opportunity to educate the public on the amazing ecosystem of the San Francisco Bay. We really feel the bay needs our attention and protection."
Sonja Gomez, volunteer manager of the Sea Lion Center, highlights a sea lion skeleton — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Besides a thorough exhibit space on sea lions, the Sea Lion Center also offers frequent talks on everything from plankton to great white sharks to blue whales. After you get informed about the engaging variety of sea life in the bay, head outside to see and hear the sea lions for themselves.
If your idea of a great vacation day is spending time in nature while learning all about nature, head to the Sea Lion Center at Pier 39.
Sea lions enjoy each other's company at Pier 39 — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy