Survival Animal Attacks

Watch: Spearfisherman Gets in a Vicious Fight with Sea Lion That Tries to Steal His Fish

"It was a battle of wills, me versus the sea lion"
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A California sea lion tries to steal fish from spearfisherman.
The sea lion was relentless and the battle for the seabass lasted more than 20 minutes. Photograph by joserlfreedive / via Instagram

A spearfisherman came face-to-face with a different kind of taxman the other day while free diving off the California coast. Instead of a shark trying to steal his catch, it was an aggressive sea lion that set its sights on the fish he’d speared. A video shared to Instagram on Monday shows the struggle that ensued as the spearfisherman found himself in a vicious game of tug o’ war with the sea lion.

“The struggle was intense,” Jose Liccardo wrote in the caption that accompanies the video. “Every time I thought the fish was mine, the sea lion proved me wrong, snatching it right from my hands. It was a battle of wills, me versus the sea lion, with the crew lending their strength and wit.”

Liccardo explained that it was just a regular day diving in the Pacific when he spotted a school of white seabass. He made a good shot with his speargun on one of the fish and clipped his floatline to his belt reel when the fish made its initial run.

“Big one, big one!” he yells at his crew, which includes a captain and a couple other spearfishermen in a boat nearby.

Before he can get too excited, though, a sea lion emerges out of the depths and grabs ahold of the speared fish. Liccardo yells for help and one of his partners, Lauren Sarasua, quickly jumps in and grabs ahold of the floatline that’s connecting Liccardo to the seabass.

A sea lion grabs hold of a speared seabass.
The sea lion grabbed ahold of the seabass soon after it was speared. Photograph by joserlfreedive / via Instagram

“But the sea lion, with power I underestimated, dragged us through the water with astonishing force.”

The two divers refuse to let go of the line, but the sea lion is just as relentless. It turns around and swims toward Liccardo several times, charging him and baring its teeth.

Suéltalo, motherfucker!” he yells, shouting at the sea lion to “let go of it.”

This game of tug o’ war lasted for more than 20 minutes, according to Liccardo’s post. Sarasua eventually gets the floatline over to Fussaki Christos Dodi, the captain of the nearby boat. Dodi then pulls the line tight, nearly losing a few fingers in the process when the line wraps around his hand.

Read Next: Watch: Shark Drags Fisherman Overboard in Florida Everglades

An aggressive California sea lion.
The sea lion charges and bares its teeth. Photograph by joserlfreedive / via Instagram

Finally, the other spearfishermen deter the sea lion long enough for Liccardo to get the seabass over to the side of the boat, where the other crewmembers pull it over the gunnel. Everything above the fish’s gills is mostly shredded from the sea lion’s sharp teeth, but the rest of the fish appears to be intact.

“Victorious at last,” Liccardo beats on his chest and celebrates with his crew as he sits in the bottom of the boat next to his hard-earned seabass.  

Read Next: Eye of the Tiger: A Hawaiian Spearfisherman Survives a Brutal Shark Attack

Although some Instagram users have criticized Liccardo, saying he should have let the sea lion have the fish, others have patted him on the back for standing up to the marine predator. California sea lions might be federally protected throughout their range, but just like coyotes, bears, and other land-based predators, they can become aggressive around humans when they learn to associate us with free meals.

“From most other spearos I want to say thank you for fighting and keeping your catch!” one person writes. “If you don’t fight for it, you inadvertently teach them they can get an easy meal by stealing a catch from spearos, and [they] will continue to do that to other spearfishermen if successful. Well done!!”