• Seal bites man in Friday Harbor; experts, victim say seal expects to be hand fed

    By: Joanna Small

    Updated:

    FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. -  A Friday Harbor mainstay that's been attracting locals and tourists alike for two decades is in hot water.

    Popeye the popular one-eyed seal bit a fisherman's arm, causing severe injury.

    For the better part of 20 years, Popeye has been getting her fill of table scraps from people eager to feed her.

    Gerald Balmer says that’s what the seal appeared to want when she paid him and his friends a visit as they pulled into Friday Harbor after a long day of fishing last Thursday.

    “She used her flippers and was flipping water clear over the boat onto us—wanting something to eat,” Gerald remembered.

    But Gerald says when he didn’t oblige, Popeye helped herself.

    “It must have been 10 minutes later I was sitting there messing with the barbecue by the pole holder that goes in the side of the boat, and she reached up there and grabbed a hold of my arm,” he said.

    Gerald says because of his puncture wounds, he’s now taking several antibiotics and is in quite a bit of pain.


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    But he harbors no resentment toward the harbor seal who did it.

    "I know it’s not her fault, she’s been taught that,” Gerald said.

    Michael Milstein, NOAA’s Public Affairs Officer for the West Coast Region, said hand-feeding marine life is just as harmful to the animals as it can be to us.

    “With the next generation of seals that emerge in Puget Sound, we can really focus on keeping them wild,” he told us.

    Milstein admits it’s probably too late for Popeye; a 20-year-old habit is hard to break.

    Gerald says he’s healing fine; it’s Popeye’s next snack he’s worried about.

    “You’ve got all these little kids running around catching the shrimp and the little fish to feed the seal,” he said.

    NOAA says it is adding more signs to warn people not to feed the marine animals.

    Local merchants that sell food specifically to give to the seals have agreed to stop doing that.

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