An adult California sea lion is about the same size as a 1.8m-tall man and weighs about 275kg to 390kg.
Attacks by sea lions on humans are rare, Lt. John Sandmeyer told a local television station in San Diego, where a sea lion dragged a 62-year-old man off his boat and about 20 feet underwater.
On Sunday, new signs were fastened to the edge of the docks by the Steveston Harbour Authority reading: "Please do not feed the sea lions" in large, capitalized print.
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"I didn't know sea lions did that", said Cabot Phillips. "Her family were just in shock".
As screams erupted from the crowd, a family member immediately leapt into the water, grabbed the child and took her to safety. They are not circus performers.
California sea lions often visit the area on their migratory cycle, hoping for handouts from fisherman, he said.
Bob Beziuk, a general manager of the harbor, told PEOPLE that sea lions will engage with visitors if they are fed - but they're still risky wild animals. "They have teeth, they can bite and even unintentionally you can get bitten so you want to keep your distance from them", says Andrew Trites, a Marine Mammal Researcher.
"It's not Sea World, it's a place where you buy fish. Give them a lot of space", said Carter.
"[When you feed them], it builds an expectation with the animal that they're going to get something from you", added Otjen.