SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- A Southern California family that was enjoying the weekend in Santa Barbara had an unexpected passenger join them on a kayaking trip, giving them a friendly Valentine’s give they will never forget.
Rodney Gist was kayaking with his 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son when they noticed they weren’t alone.
"I could feel something on the kayak,” Leelee Gist said. “It kind of rocked a little, then I looked back and there was a little sea lion on there."
Added Rodney Gist: "Next thing I know he's snuggling up next to me."
Nearby, his wife and 8-year-old daughter couldn’t believe it.
"My wife is somewhat freaking out, thinking about this experience,this wild animal on board with us,” Rodney Gist said.
The sea lion pup didn’t jump off for more than an hour. Getting so close to marine life or having them come close to you comes with some warnings.
“We've certainly seen more marine life in near-shore waters in recent weeks,” John Palminteri said. “Federal law and the Marine Mammal Protection Act says you need to stay 100 yards away from marine animals when possible. Don't call them over or feed them. They can be unpredictable and some are carrying diseases.
But in this case, it all worked out safely.
"About five, 10 minutes in, I was able to touch him and pet him, and he was able to put his head up under my arm trying to get in my lap,” Rodney Gist said. “I thought he was going to feel slimy. He was more dry short-haired dog is what it felt like.”
There have been many sea lion sightings lately in the waters near Santa Barbara. The younger ones at times are on shore and some look underweight by up to 40 pounds.
Experts say the food supply is not the same this year and that’s causing some problems.
The small pup on the kayak in this encounter was not said to be ill or malnourished.