When 13-year-old Megan Pagnini took an after-dinner stroll on the beach with a friend on Friday, June 14, she didn’t expect to end up fighting a sea lion — but that’s exactly what happened, and the fight landed her in the hospital.
Pagnini was in Pismo Beach, California, when the attack occurred. “I was at the water, I was just playing around, jumping — having fun,” Pagnini told Good Morning America. “I was taking silly pictures, when all of a sudden, it came out of nowhere and bit my leg.”
As anyone who has spent time in the area knows, sea lions are relatively common on that particular stretch of coastline. Attacks by sea lions, however, are not common. “It’s very unusual to have a sea lion attack on a human,” Todd Tognazzini, patrol captain for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told ABC News. “There are many thousands of surfers that use the water every day in California; there are many people who go into the water and this type of event is extremely unusual.”
After the attack, Pagnini suffered deep wounds to her leg. Now, she looks at sea lions a little differently. “I thought they were just so cute and little and mostly just like little like beans that were just swimming around being cute,” she to ABC. “I thought they were just the most adorable little things. They’re just the puppies of the sea. Now I think they’re really scary. I don’t want to get near one or see one ever again.”
According to officials, the attack happened for a reason: the sea lion had been poisoned by a neurotoxin. While Pagnini was in the hospital, California Department of Fish and Wildlife crews found the animal responsible. “We knew that the girl had been transported to the hospital, so our concern was whether the animal was going to cause harm to someone else,” Tognazzini said. “Our officer spotted what he believed to be the correct animal. It was behaving very strange. It actually exited the water and was in a state of stupor. It was biting sticks along the beach and actually worked its way up to a lifeguard tower on the beach, and it’s metal, and it bit the base of the lifeguard tower.”
When they tested the sea lion, the results showed that it was suffering from domoic acid poisoning. Domoic acid is produced by algae and accumulates in shellfish and small fish. When the concentrations get high enough and a sea lion eats enough, it can cause neurological damage and violent behavior. “There was nothing this young lady could have done to stop this from happening,” Tognazzini explained. “[The attack was] a complete anomaly.”