Riverbanks Zoo's newest fin-footed tenants – four sea lions and one harbor seal – have arrived.
Sea Lion Landing, a $12 million, 250,000-gallon saltwater habitat, is home to Baja, Maverick, Ranger, P.J. and Gambit. The exhibit is designed to look like Pier 39 in San Francisco, where hundreds of sea lions live.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and remember spending many days on summer breaks and school holidays at Pier 39. The pier has tons of shops, a carousel, a marina and a stage where magicians and jugglers perform daily. (I had the unfortunate experience of being coerced into a magic show when I was 9.) The biggest attraction, of course, is the sea lions. They lie around on the pier’s docks all day sunbathing and barking at each other, to the delight of tourists.
And while not quite the real thing, Riverbanks Zoo’s Sea Lion Landing gets pretty close. Here’s how it compares:
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In SF, the pier with all the sea lions is at the edge of the Fisherman’s Wharf district. From the pier, you can see Angel Island, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Wharf at Riverbanks is the upper deck area, where you can look down into the pool.
The pool bottom is nonreflective, which makes it easier on the eyes of the animals, but you can still see them fairly well from this vantage point. What’s more, Riverbanks lets you view the animals from below the water as well as at water level, giving you more opportunities to see them in action. Even better, no fog to block your view!
The Pier 39 sea lions use K-Dock as their primary place to rest or “haul out.” About 534 sea lions call the pier home, according the the San Francisco Sea Lion Center. At peak population in November 2009, a record 1,701 sea lions were counted there.
There are docks at Sea Lion Landing, too, should the zoo’s four sea lions fancy a “haul out.” Just like the real thing.
Pier 39 is loud. A few hundred barking sea lions definitely make a racket.
Riverbanks has thoughtfully piped in noises of extra barking, as well as seagull calls, boat horns and ocean waves. The sounds add to the general ambiance of the exhibit and make you feel like you’re on the coast.
I might be weird for noticing this, but the rocks lining the outside of the pool have faux seagull poop on them. (The best kind of seagull poop, IMO.) Pier 39 has tons of seagulls, and this attention to detail was funny and fantastic.
Only at Riverbanks
If you decide you must compare Sea Lion Landing to the real thing for yourself, there is a live webcam of Pier 39 in the underwater viewing area at Riverbanks. You can watch Baja, Maverick, Ranger, P.J. and Gambit swim around and also watch the San Francisco sea lions in real time.
(Note: Summer is breeding time, when many sea lions head south to the Channel Islands west of Los Angeles, so you might not see many animals on the cam for a while.)
Up-cycled turtle sculpture
One of the biggest dangers to ocean mammals is becoming entangled in plastic pollution, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Activists and volunteers with Washed Ashore worked with Riverbanks to create a sculpture made entirely from garbage found in the ocean. The sea turtle sculpture is about the size of a kitchen table and made of all sorts of things that people probably shouldn’t be throwing in the ocean. At least it’s been put to good use here.