Up close and personal with a seal

Being around seals can be fun, but also slightly nerve-wracking. They have an unpredictable, manic energy.
All together now: Swan sings along with Jeffrey Fanugao, one of her trainers. Antonie Robertson / The National
All together now: Swan sings along with Jeffrey Fanugao, one of her trainers. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // No amount of coaching can prepare you for how surreal it is to receive a kiss from a sea lion.

“Don’t be alarmed if you feel a flipper on your thigh,” said Ayana Longa, the assistant manager of the marine mammal operation, before I got into the pool.

Five minutes later and I was kneeling in the water with a 13-year-old sea lion named Swan pressing its fishy snout on to my cheek like a wet sponge.

Being around sea lions can be fun, but also slightly nerve-wracking. They’ve been trained to nod their heads to certain questions, but do so with an enthusiasm that is disconcerting.

They smile when told to do so, but it’s more like rolling back their top lips to show a row of black, sharp canines.

They jump in the air just a few feet away from where you stand in the pool, but the sheer speed and power of these animals is a reminder of their status as apex predator in many eco-systems.

We are told not to poke the animal’s eyes, touch its head, or – most crucially – its nether regions. I was careful to place my hands only on the trunk of the animal when it came to give it a hug – just in case.

mcroucher@thenational.ae

Published: May 19, 2014 04:00 AM

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