In late May, the world got a different view of sea lions after a college student filmed one of the creatures leaping out of the water and snatching a young girl off of a dock.
While the family involved in the incident — who, as the “Today” show notes, have chosen to identify themselves only by their last name, Lau — must certainly be relieved that terrifying moment is over, experts are warning that the girl may not be out of danger yet.
As the dramatic video hit social media, quickly earning millions of views, the Vancouver Aquarium issued a public plea for the family to quickly seek specialized medical treatment for the girl, as she may have contracted a dangerous bacterial infection known as “seal finger”:
After the video went viral, a number of aquarium mammal trainers took part in media interviews, warning that a roughly 2 inch by 4 inch wound that the girl suffered during the incident was susceptible to the infection.
While rare overall, ABC News reports that seal finger is not actually that uncommon among anyone who regularly interacts with sea mammals, such as aquarium trainers:
Seal finger infections are caused by different kinds of Mycoplasma bacteria, which live in the mouths of sea mammals like seals and sea lions, according to a 2009 published case report. Exposure via a cut in the skin can often result in cellulitis, or soft-tissue infection, and untreated severe infections can lead to loss of fingers or limbs. [...]
The infection, also called spekk finger (from “blubber” in Norwegian), can be tricky to treat. Mycoplasma bacteria are the smallest form of bacteria and do not have a cell wall, which is the primary target for many antibiotics like penicillin.
As Vancouver Aquarium spokesperson Deana Lancaster told NBC News, however, these public warnings, thankfully, served their purpose:
"The family saw media reports in which our marine mammal trainer recommended they call us, and they did get in touch.
She did get a superficial wound and she's going to get the right treatment."
While the girl was put on antibiotics after the incident, the Lau family has since confirmed that they are coordinating with the aquarium to ensure that she gets the specialized treatment necessary to prevent seal finger:
While the Lau family has told CBC News that — despite assumptions people have drawn from the video — they were not feeding the sea lion, officials say the entire situation could have been easily avoided.
As Robert Kiesman, chairman of the Steveston Harbour Authority where the incident took place, explained:
"What we saw in that video today was total stupidity on the part of the adults.
Not only do you let your family members feed a wild animal, but then they went and let their little girl sit on the edge of the dock with her back, dress hanging off."
For the girl's father, however, the fact that he could be “organizing a funeral by now rather than doing [an] interview” certainly keeps things in perspective, saying that the “only thing I care is, God, she is safe.”