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The parents of a small girl who was pulled into the water by a sea lion — a jaw-dropping moment captured on video that has gone viral — are to blame for the scary ordeal, at least according to Canadian port officials.
Robert Kiesman, who chairs the Steveston Harbour Authority, noted there are many signs posted at the popular fishing harbor in British Columbia telling visitors to not feed the wildlife.
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“You wouldn’t go up to a grizzly bear in the bush and hand him a ham sandwich, so you shouldn’t be handing a thousand-pound wild animal in the water slices of bread,” Kiesman told CBC News.
“And you certainly shouldn’t be letting your little girl sit on the edge of the dock with her dress hanging down after the sea lion has already snapped at her once. Just totally reckless behavior.”
The video, which was posted on YouTube by an onlooker on Saturday, the day the incident took place, showed a sea lion poking his head out of the water near a dock after someone tossed a piece of food.
At one point, the sea lion rears up and huffs at the girl, who flinches and laughs. Moments later, when the girl sits on a railing, the sea lion snatches her dress and yanks her into harbor.
Within seconds, a man dives in and brings her back to land. The girl, who has not been identified, does not appear to be injured.
The video has been viewed more than 18 million times on YouTube.
TODAY has reached out to harbor officials as well as the person who shot the video for comment, but had not heard back as of this posting.
On Monday, the Steveston Harbour Authority also posted a statement on its website reminding visitors to not feed the wildlife, noting it’s both dangerous and illegal.
“Recently, a little girl was pulled into the water while sitting on the bull rail on the public sales float, after her parents had been trying to get the animal’s attention…” the statement said. “Thankfully, it appears that nobody was hurt during the incident. However, we wish to reiterate that Steveston Harbour Authority does NOT condone the feeding of any wildlife within the harbour.”
In his comments to CBC, Kiesman went further, saying the girl and her family were being "reckless."
"We've now seen an example of why it's illegal to do this and why it's dangerous and frankly stupid to do this," he said.
Andrew Trites, director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit, also suggested to CBC that the sea lion wasn’t to blame and that the animal may have mistaken the girl’s dress for food.
“It was as big a surprise to the sea lion as it was to the little girl,” said Trites.