The Fish Story

A Countdown to LBI ‘Localness’; When Hungry Sea Lions Get Grabby

By JAY MANN | Jun 06, 2017

“What does it take to be a local on Long Beach Island?”

This arrived as a succinct email question, with seemingly no intrinsic intent, short of someone wondering out loud … in my direction.

However, it’s a decent puzzler, especially for those trying to carve out a piece of LBI localness to call their very own – locals permitting.

For me, the complexities of localness came to the fore when I left our local area to go to college in Hawaii. Upon landing in “The Islands,” I immediately got to feel the local shoe on the other prejudicial foot. I’ll explain.

Not only wasn’t I born in Hawaii but I was quite obviously of a worrisome white-skinned ilk, a known invasive skin tone among a dark-skinned culture; a society once decimated by Anglo illnesses. Obliviously, Hawaii is now riddled with white folks, and every other skin shade known to man, meaning I could kinda hide within the dermal rainbow.

To cope with skin tonalities, the original Hawaiians created a term, haole, for those of pale-facedness. While it simply means “white,” when spoken kindly, if it is combined with any sort of anglicized adjectival emphasis i.e, “blankety blank haole!” it’s Ailani bar the door, i.e. you don’t want to be that blankety blank haole.

Out of an infestation necessity, the Hawaiians eventually devised a term for wave after wave of quasi-local haoles, those born in the Islands. They’re called kama’ainas. Over the years, that term has also been somewhat ceremonially crowned upon those who have lived in Hawaii so long that they’re kinda local by proxy.

I bring up that Hawaiian sorting method to show that many areas of the world strive to grade localness. The same applies to LBI tribes. With that in mind, I’m seeking to roughly gradate LBI localness.

The rarest form of LBI’er is the Island-borne local, maybe aka way-local. This microscopically small group has literally been born on LBI; delivered atop the Island. Such way-local Islanders harkens back to times of mid-wives and home-birthing days, as was the case with angling buddy Gene P., whose place of birth is “Beach Haven,” literally. Also, I recently heard of an impromptu way-local addition, a baby boy who bounced into the world before a mainland hospital could be reached by nine-month mom. Place of birth: Ambulance; Long Beach Township. Now that’s one Island-borne local.

The most heavily populated segment of deeper LBI localness arrives via Ocean County-born native locals, born in area hospitals, to LBI-based parents. These born-here folks have a local leg up on the likes of non-native locals, who have been here forever and a day – but born in Elsewhere. These Elsewhere-born longtime residents are often assigned the general and highly agreeable term Islanders. That’s better than my term: default locals.

I’m now a six-decade Elsewhere-born Islander. There remains idle debate over the exact number of here-years needed to acquire a true Islander status. I think 20 years is a start.

One of my favorite localish segments is the highly popular – and, some might say, highly sensible – summers-only locals.

In my brighter days, I was a proud summers-only local, zipping off to Maui before the sun even set on summers hereabouts. “See you locals later. I’m heading off to Maui.” I watched the eyes of natives and even Island-born locals fill with utter envy. Of course, once in Hawaii, I became an instant nonlocal haole. Not that I cared what the hell they called me, as long as I was there.

Nowadays, I’m often the one thinking, “Take me with you!” when the summers-only locals fly off into the fall sunset, leaving me a tad lonely in my localness.

Finally, I personally fully accept the semi-localness of weekend warriors. There’s something embracingly fun-loving about these strategically arriving Island types, many of whom have cleverly extended their weekend warriorness to run from Thursday into Monday, spring through fall. Maybe I should come up with a localness rating for those long-weekenders. Hey …voila.

Now, if you’re thinking that just about anyone who comes here for even two days in succession qualifies as some form of local, who is there to feel local over? Enter the day-trippers, shoobies, bennies … you know, those who bring the fast, big bucks to us, i.e. our lifeblood. Based on bucks alone, I think they’ve bought a day-badge portion of localness.

Face it; all are welcome to a piece of our localness.

VIRAL SEA LION BITE: You’ve surely seen the mindbogglingly spooky video of a young Canadian visitor to Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf, Richmond, British Columbia. She’s seemingly being urged by her family to have a selfie taken with a nearby in-water male seal lion – its head out of the water, longingly looking for a human handout. It instead ended with an entire human.

Google “girl sea lion” for dozens of reads.

The video’s opening, happy-go-lucky scenes, show a seemingly cutesy sea lion, as it initially makes an innocent little lunge toward the 6-year-old gal. Giggles abound amongst those standing atop the dock. Things are cool. Somebody can even be seen dangling fingers in the face of the vittles-seeking creature. I can only guess that up British Columbia way sea lions are perceived as petting zoo material. Guess again, eh.

Things go cringe-worthingly south when the riled marine mammal, glaringly pissed at not being fed, suddenly propels itself from the water, partially onto the dock, to where the posed Canadian miss is seated for the photo shoot.

As if issuing its opinion on foodless selfies, the PO’ed pinniped ferociously bites at the back of the girl’s cute little summer outfit. It yanks her off the dock railing before mommy dearest could even get out, “Oh, that’s so cute … or not!”

At that point in the video, I quit thinking in “Oh, that poor little girl” terms. Instead, I became mesmerized by how effortlessly the sea lion power-jerked the 60-pound gal into the drink, whipping her around like a proverbial Canadian rag doll.

Putting the video on pause, I went into the mandatory research mode. The rag doll-ish takedown soon made pound-for-pound sense. It turns out a sea lion can weigh well over 700 pounds, a load of that being bristling neck muscles. Had it been so inclined, that creature could have head-passed the girl to a nearby buddy, soccer-style.

After being coaxed by YouTube to watch a video of another massive sea lion merrily jumping onto a fisherman’s boat for a meal – which is how many reach 700 pounds – I resumed the sea lion attack vid. It fired up just in time for me to watch the seized girl get slammed into the water, backwards. Her head hits so hard that a halo of water splashes up around it.

And she might now be wearing a far more celestial halo if it wasn’t for – a little Steiner’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” please – good old nearby granddad. That fearless dude goes into an absolutely instantaneous rescue mode, jumping in the icy BC waters before the girl’s splash has even reached its apex. The sea lion is now thinking, “What I do … pull in the whole frickin family!?”

Gramps truly saves the day … in literally five seconds flat. That was the recordish time it took him to jump in, grab the girl from the sea lion’s grab, push her back to the dock and hand her up to family members on the dock. Truly wow. He did lose his sunglasses in the rescue process, which has led to sunglass companies around the world offering to freely replace them. Hell, I’ll gladly buy him another pair.

The video, taken on a cell phone by Michael Fujiwara, ends with the pullout of the girl. But the story goes on – and it sorta cycles back to hereabouts.

Despite a sea lion bite-down that could have taken a sharkly chunk out of the youngster, she came away with only a non-nasty gash, about four-inches long, depicted by the media as a flesh wound. However, that superficial wound took the tale to a whole other level.

The nature of the bite led to her undergoing a strict antibiotic regimen, meant to stave off a potentially catastrophic infection, known as “seal finger” – called that regardless of where a bite is located on the body.

Seal finger could be the result of a bacterium called Mycoplasma phocacerebrale. Oddly, the exact ID of the causative bacteria – or, possibly, fungus – is poorly known, even though it dates back hundreds of years, to the days of wholesale seal harvesting.

The symptoms of the disease include long-term cellulitis, inflammation of bodily joints and an excruciatingly painful swelling of the marrow inside bones. Back in the day, affected fingers and such were simply amputated when the sufferer couldn’t take it any longer. A body bite? Pray the antibiotics take hold.

So, what’s all this have to do with us? Along with nothing, sea lion-wise … a lot, seal-wise.

The bacteria in the mouth of many marine mammals are nasty stuff. In fact, it has gotten nastier than ever.

Years back, our buddy Bob Schoelkopf, founder of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, had a life-threatening infection after being bitten by, I believe, a seal. He had one helluva time fighting it. It turns out that infections from marine bacteria, like Vibrio, are becoming harder and harder to kill, even with the most modern antibiotics.

While research is ongoing as to why marine environment infections are becoming more furious and drug-resistant, a series of studies have proven that antibiotics are working their way into marine environs. It’s arriving via treated sewage, which can’t remove residual/occult pharmaceuticals from the mainstream flow – an ocean-bound flow.

While the concentration of antibiotics in the water is absolutely minuscule, that’s the perfect presence for bacteria to build a resistance to them. Such acquired resistance sure as hell could be part and parcel to the growing infection risk from marine injuries.

At this point, I’ll relate this maritime infection threat to constant warnings about getting too bloody close to seals, growingly common visitors to our shores.

That obviousness aside, the same acute infection threat should now also be extended to any cuts or wounds suffered in marine waters. We’re even talking fish bites, most notably from bluefish. Decades back, there was a fatality related to a bluefish bite on LBI. A night surfcaster wrapped a nasty chopper bite in a fishing rag, and then left it on all night, as he slept. The infection that set in was essentially unstoppable.

No, this isn’t my way to get more folks to move to the mountains – and lighten the Island load. Instead, I’m simply warning all marine environment folks to, heretofore, keep a doubly close eye on marine water wounds, cleaning them one good – with, ironically, saline solution.

And don’t be taking selfies with pinnipeds!

RUNDOWN: The fluke rules, as they now stand, are going over well with many flattie-seekers. There’s a goodly load of keeper-sized fish – and lacking an aggravating overabundance of shorts. However, the shorts are coming, soon, with a vengeance. Once the bay warms, it will surely bounce over to a one-in-10 pick. But we’re still in the spring mode, so enjoy.

There are large drumfish in the Little Egg westward zone. Flukers dragging bait and using noncurved hooks are finding them as bycatch.

Weakfishing was kind to a number of folks last weekend. While one keepable weakie isn’t much of an allowance, I would still like to see a full-blown catch-and-release mode assumed during spring with this terribly troubled fishery. I know that won’t be happening. Weakfish are next to only fluke as keeper meat.

Regarding the massive-bellied striped bass seen in the photo (this column), it might hold a partial clue to “Where have all the weakfish gone … linesides passing?”

It’s dangerous to even bring this up in my striper-loving region, but weakfish gluttony by stripers is nothing new. Bass eat anything … and in abundance. If you mother the bass stock, you become a mutha for other species, those lacking equal love on the conservation front.

The day could come when striper hookups become as monotonous as hooking during bluefish blitzes. I couldn’t have just said that. Maybe I was, like, quoting some other body – though the concept of our being able to keep smaller, over-plentiful bass in the name of holistic conservation could sit well with many an angler.

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