A Geraldton woman has undergone surgery after a frightening encounter with a sea lion off Town Beach.
Carol Walsh was sitting on rocks after swimming in the ocean on Monday when the animal came up from behind and bit her right calf.
Mrs Walsh’s husband Ian described the attack as ferocious.
He was on their boat nearby and leapt to her rescue when when he heard her cries for help.
“She started screaming and yelling out ‘It’s got me! It’s got me!” Mr Walsh said.
“So I jumped in and when I got there I grabbed her and did the survival stroke to get her back on the boat.
“She was very distressed so I was trying to calm her down.
“She was bleeding pretty badly and when I got her on the boat there was blood everywhere.”
Mr Walsh said members of the public were helpful when they returned to the boat ramp and waited for an ambulance to arrive.
Mrs Walsh was taken to Geraldton Regional Hospital where she had leg surgery.
She received 25 stitches to close the wound.
Recounting the attack from her hospital bed, Mrs Walsh said it all happened so quickly.
“I was sitting on the rocks, looking to see where the boat was, and it got me from behind,” she said.
“Then I just felt it. Bang! It was over in two seconds,” Mrs Walsh.
She said she knew straight away it was a sea lion because she had been watching two or three of them in the water.
Department of Environment and Conservation wildlife protection officer Kevin Marshall said it was the first serious attack he had come across in four decades in Geraldton.
“We try to educate the public about sea lions because this is the only place between here and New South Wales where they live so close to water used by humans,” he said.
Mrs Walsh, who manages Geraldton camp school, said she would not swim in water with sea lions again.
“I wasn’t actually going to go for a swim because I don’t like swimming with whatever is in the ocean,” she said.
“We had two girls from Prague on the boat and we were showing them around, so I am glad it didn’t happen to one of them.”
Mr Walsh described the attack as “something fierce” and said it was a warning to others who swam with sea lions.
“If it was a little boy or girl that was attacked it could have been a lot worse,” he said.
Mr Marshall said the DEC would consider erecting warning signs in the area.
He said there was usually a reason or cause as to why a sea lion would attack a human.
“They may appear to be very lazy when they are asleep on the beach, but they can be very, very fast when they want to be,” he said.
Seal lions could also be territorial. Mr Marshall said the attack on Mrs Walsh may have been triggered by other swimmers disturbing the animal.
Australian sea lions are an endangered species, with only around 3000 of the mammals between here and the east coast.
Mr Marshall said DEC would only consider take steps to capture the sea lion if attacks became a regular occurrence.