Sea lion bites teen on Pismo Beach during show of "strange behavior"

sea lion pismo beach
Posted at 11:40 AM, Jun 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-21 14:40:54-04

(KGTV) - A teenager bitten by a sea lion on a Central California beach is warning others to be cautious.

Megan Pagnini, 13, was taking selfies on the Pismo Beach shoreline last Friday when the sea lion took her by surprise.

"I was at the water; I was just playing around, jumping -- having fun," Pagnini told Good Morning America. "And I was taking silly pictures, when all of a sudden, it came out of nowhere and bit my leg."

Pagnini’s friend was recording video as she splashed in shallow water near the sea lions.

"I thought they were just so cute and little and mostly just like, little, like beans that were just swimming around being cute," she said to ABC News. "I thought they were just the most adorable little things. They're just the puppies of the sea. And now I think they're really scary. I don't want to get near one or see one ever again."

Pagnini suffered a deep gash in her leg, ABC reported.

The sea lion that bit Paganini eventually wandered onto the beach “acting very strangely,” biting sticks and the metal base of a lifeguard tower, said California Department of Fish and Wildlife Captain Todd Tognazzini.

CDFW officials said the sea lion tested positive for domoic acid poisoning. The acid is created by algae and increases in summer months, building up in small fish and shellfish that make up the diet of sea lions.

Domoic acid can cause neurological damage and contribute to strange behavior, according to Tognazzini.

Tognazzini, who has worked in the Pismo Beach area for almost 40 years, said this is his first recollection of an unprovoked sea lion bite.

Humans can also suffer from domoic acid poisoning, but it is obtained through diet and not transmittable through an animal’s bite, experts said.

The sea lion responsible for biting Pagnini was transferred to a Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. It will be treated with food free of domoic acid over a week, after which it will undergo neurological examinations. If the sea lion has permanent brain damage, it may need to be euthanized, Tognazzini said.