After a day of fishing, Gerald Balmer and his friends returned to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington last week and were greeted by the resident celebrity, a one-eyed harbor seal nicknamed Popeye.
For more than 20 years, Popeye has been a fixture in the harbor, eating handouts from tourists eager to feed her.
"She used her flippers and was flipping water clear over the boat onto us, wanting something to eat," Balmer told KIRO.
But Balmer refused to feed her, so the harbor seal did what she's never done before: She bit Balmer. KIRO has the story:
"It must have been 10 minutes later I was sitting there messing with the barbecue by the pole holder that goes in the side of the boat, and she reached up there and grabbed a hold of my arm," Balmer explained to KIRO.
Popeye jumped 3 feet above the water and tore into Balmer's arm, causing deep puncture wounds.
"I wasn't feeding it, I wasn't doing anything," Balmer told the Seattle PI. "I was just minding my own business."
Officials from the Port of Friday Harbor told the Seattle PI that the incident shows what can happen when wildlife becomes dependent on humans for food.
“Popeye has done a good job of training people to feed her,” Port Commissioner Greg Hertel told the Seattle PI. “Some folks feel that because she is blind in one eye, she has trouble hunting and that they are simply being kind to her.”
Fact is, Popeye can hunt for her own food just fine, evidenced by her survival during the winter months when tourists aren't around to feed her.
Fortunately, a registered nurse was on a nearby boat and cleaned and bandaged Balmer's arm shortly after the incident. He later received treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Seattle, and is receiving antibiotics to prevent infection.
In the meantime, officials continue to urge people to not feed the wildlife, including Popeye.
“We urge people to love her, take pictures of her from a safe distance, learn about her, but please don’t feed her or try to pet her,” Hertel told the Seattle PI, adding that she’s about 200 pounds with the jaw strength of a wolf.
As for Balmer, 71, he doesn't blame Popeye for biting him.
“I feel sorry for her,” he said. “I know it’s not her fault, she’s just trying to survive. I don’t think she was trying to eat my arm.”
Read more about seals on GrindTV