Located several hundred kilometers south of Santiago and a short distance from the Pacific Ocean is the riverside city of Valdivia. The city was lies where the Calle-Calle and Cruces Rivers join and flow into the Valdivia River. Valdivia is home to a casino, a botanical garden, a vibrant fish market, a brewery, and a decommissioned British-made submarine that functions as a museum. But the most popular tourist attraction in Valdivia is its sea lions.
I imagine that the sea lions follow the tide up the Valdivia River to hunt fish. However, the city of Valdivia’s waterfront area has become a big hangout spot for sea lions to loiter and wait for food. The city’s fish market is located right next to the Valdivia River. After the workers fillet the fresh fish, they throw the scraps into the river. The lurking sea lions dart and twist and turn and splash to outcompete each other to get at the discarded fish parts.
When not hanging out in front of the fish market, which operates every day, the sea lions haul themselves out onto boat landings and floating docks. When out of the water, you can really appreciate the size of these animals. They’re huge. The males can weigh over 350 kilograms and measure almost 3 meters in length.
The sea lions are highly entertaining to watch. Watching them trying to haul their mass onto a boat landing can be a comical sight. The loud, guttural barking and grunting sounds they make while vying for dock space is hysterical. In the water, they move their bodies with speed and grace, like flexible torpedos.
You can get very close to the sea lions at the waterfront. Being so close to such large animals is a thrill in itself. But one must always remember that these are wild animals. Given their size and large, pointy tusk-like teeth, sea lions can be extremely dangerous animals. At least one tourist is bitten each year in Valdivia while trying to get an impressive photo.
In Spanish, sea lions are actually called sea wolves – lobos marinos.