Brian's Photo Blog — Article 374
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Distressed Sea Lion at Jalama Beach
Sunday 8 February 2015   —   Category: Outings

During my January 2015 trip to the California Central Coast, my wife, daughter and I left Santa Maria about 7:00 AM for a multi-stop outing to the Lompoc area.

After some delicious fruit & maple oatmeal, English muffins and hot drinks at McDonald’s in Lompoc to warms us up, we arrived at Jalama Beach, approximately 10 miles south (as the seagull flies) of Lompoc. The mid-30s temperature combined with a coastal breeze quickly neutralized the effects of our warm breakfast!

Bundling up with every scrap of clothing we had with us and wishing heartily that we had brought more, we tramped down to the shore. To our right, near the mouth of Jalama Creek — where there used to be a Chumash village — my wife spotted some sort of large, dark creature in the distance. So we headed that direction to investigate.

We didn’t know it at the time, but sitting there on the beach was a female California sea lion. Even though we knew nothing about them, still, this animal seemed to be acting strangely. She kept looking up into the sky, as if she were trying to spot an airplane! Weird!

We kept inching closer and close, until we were about a dozen yards, or maybe less, from the sea lion. At one point my thirteen-year-old daughter Olivia laid down in the sand to take some pictures herself. About 15 minutes and scores of photos later, we finally headed south along the beach to begin our hike.

We had only walked a short distance when our way was blocked by ocean water. Some fishermen standing there told us that the tide was rising and wouldn’t be lower until the early afternoon. So much for our planned hours-long walk down the beach towards Point Conception!

Instead, we explored two other locations in the Lompoc area, which I will share about in the near future with two new blog articles and photo albums.

It wasn’t until I started processing these photos last week — a month after I had taken them — that I realized, to my shock and dismay, that this sea lion had some fishing line, or something similar, wrapped tightly around her head! In photo after photo I could clearly see that the fishing line was gouging into her fur and even her skin.

It may seem like an emotional overreaction, but I had a hard time processing these photos. Maybe I am reading too much into them, but to me she looks obviously in distress. Now it makes total sense why she was alone on the beach, and why she kept looking up into the sky. By tilting her head up, she was trying to relieve the pain of the raw flesh under her chin. Was she perhaps seeking the aid of humans for her suffering?

I feel so bad that I didn’t realize her predicament at the time. But what could I have done about it even if I had? Would I have had the courage to go up to her and touch her. Such powerful jaws and large teeth could very likely snap my arm off!

Even if I had had the courage, would SHE have? Would I have been allowed to approach and touch, or would she have run away in fear? Who knows the answer to any of these questions? If only ... if only ....

I can’t shake the feeling that there is some sort of primordial connection between man and beast which was established by God in the Garden of Eden. I feel a deep longing to have been able to help this distressed sea lion, and a great sadness that I was not able to — neither of which seems very rational.

The Bible recounts that God gave mankind authority over all the animals (Genesis 1:28). Seeing that God is a good and loving Creator who cares about the animals (Psalms 104:27‑28; 136:25; 145:15‑16), this authority was to be used for taking care of His creatures, and not for abusing and exploiting them.

However, mankind rebelled against God and became corrupt — so corrupt that He had no choice but to almost completely destroy the human race in the Flood. After God had preserved Noah and his family in the ark, He told them that from then on, all the animals would fear and dread mankind (Genesis 9:2). Humans too are often afraid of animals — even itsy bitsy spiders!

Would our mutual fears have kept us apart? Even so, as I look at these photos I feel a deep connection with this sea lion that is hard to explain. Perhaps she had a similar feeling which drew her to the beach in search of human help?

Out of the 85 photos I took at Jalama Beach, 37 made it into the resulting Jalama Beach 2015 album — including one picture by Olivia. A full 31 of those images are of the sea lion! It may seen like an excessive focus on a single subject, but I got so many good shots of the sea lion, in so many different poses, that having this large number of photos of her is merely a tribute to her beauty — and her suffering.

A couple of previous outings resulted in many photos which looked good both in color and in black & white. Therefore, the Smith Rock 2013 album has its companion Smith Rock 2013 B&W, and Lake Chelan 2012 has its companion Lake Chelan 2012 B&W.

But in those cases, the contents of the color album and its monochrome companion album are not identical. In each instance, there are color photos which do not have a corresponding appearance in the black & white album, and monochrome images which do not appear in full color in its companion album.

In the current situation things are different. Because all of the photos in Jalama Beach 2015 look so good as monochrome images, the entire album of 37 pictures has been converted to black & white for the companion Jalama Beach 2015 B&W album.
UPDATE: Not long after I posted this blog entry, I saw this related headline in the news: Emaciated sea lion rescued on San Francisco boulevard, hundreds of feet away from beach.
For the other photo outings from my January trip to California, don’t miss these other articles and albums:
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 374
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Reader Comments
On February 9, 2015, Aunt Sandra wrote:
I feel just like you Brian. If you would have known about it you could have contacted a ranger and they would have helped her. Were the fishermen near by and could they see her too? You got some great shots and I like the black and white too. Sending our love to all!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 374
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