Lifestyle & Human Interest

Watch: Sea Lion Leaps Out of Ocean To Attack 13-Year-Old Girl Playing on Beach


When visiting the beach, you may have considered the possibility of a shark attack. Anyone who frequents tropical locations will tell you that such an attack is too rare to warrant avoiding an ocean-side vacation.

A potential sea lion attack has probably never even occurred to you, which should say something about how extremely unlikely it is to experience one.

However, one recent incident proved that just because a situation is unlikely, it isn’t impossible.

Megan Pagnini, a 13-year-old from California, was spending time with her friends at Pismo Beach when she decided to wade into shallow waters.

Her friend happened to capture the shocking moment that followed on camera. If the incident hadn’t been recorded, it might have been impossible to believe.

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“I was just kinda jumping around, dancing, just having fun. And they were taking funny pictures of me. And we were just all laughing,” Paginini told KSBY.

Suddenly, an aggressive sea lion burst out of the water and latched itself onto Pagnini’s leg so quickly she had no idea what was happening.

“I felt it on my leg and I looked down and freaked out. I didn’t know what it was. All I knew is something was attacking me,” the teen said, recalling the moment before the sea lion took a bite out of her thigh.

Thankfully, witnesses on the beach didn’t hesitate to help Pagnini escape from the creature.

When authorities were called, they were astounded. Sea lions aren’t known to act aggressively unless directly provoked.

“All I remember is just like falling, and it finally letting go, and just running as fast as I possibly could back to shore where my friends were, and just screaming and crying,” Pagnini told Inside Edition.

According to California Fish and Wildlife Patrol Captain Todd Tognazzini, this type of attack is extremely uncommon.

Officials believe the sea lion could have been suffering from domoic acid poisoning, which could explain its erratic behavior. Even after biting Pagnini, the creature continued to act strangely.

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“We believe that was why the sea lion not only bit the person but then came on land and bit the metal lifeguard stand,” Capt. Tognazzini said.

The sea lion was tested for the poisoning at The Marine Mammal Center and is currently receiving treatment. Sea lions can contract the poisoning from algae, which their prey — including shellfish and small fish — tend to eat.

Although the incident was something straight out of a nightmare, Pagnini seems to be recovering well.

She received treatment for the injury on her thigh immediately after the incident. The teen expressed gratitude toward those who stepped in to help her in her time of need.

“After her leg was wrapped up and everything, she turned, looked at my husband and me and apologized to us as if she had ruined our weekend and it really melted my heart that that little girl was worried about us in that moment,” Nicki Thessen, one of the good Samaritans who helped Pagnini, said.

The attack may have been rare, but it serves as a reminder to be vigilant in areas where wildlife could be present. Pagnini said that that the incident has taught her to “be more cautious” when playing on the beach.

“Domoic acid can cause California sea lions to show erratic and unpredictable behavior so it’s especially important that beachgoers are vigilant and keep a safe distance,” Dr. Shawn Johnson, the Center’s Vice President of Veterinary Medicine and Science, told KSBY in a follow-up report.

“Negative sea lion interactions with humans are really rare, we’re very glad to hear that the girl is recovering and can only imagine how scary this must have been for her.”

Wildlife might appear friendly, but you can never be too aware of your surroundings. Don’t let the slim possibility of attack frighten you away from a beach outing, but be careful if you plan to venture near a wild animal’s home.

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Noel Marquis is a journalist and animal-lover hailing from the Midwest. After an internship with Disney following her college graduation, she pursued a career writing content that makes readers smile. Coffee, books and superhero movies are some of her favorite things.