Megan Pagnini was well aware of the sea lions swimming at California's Pismo Beach as she played in knee-deep waves. "I thought they were just the most adorable little things"—that is, until an adult female jumped up and bit her on the thigh. "It was just total fear," the 13-year-old tells ABC News of the June 14 incident. "I was taking silly pictures, when all of a sudden, it came out of nowhere." The teen was taken to a hospital, where she received stitches Thursday. "It's a pretty nasty injury,” Todd Tognazzini of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife tells the Sacramento Bee. Wildlife officials say the sea lion showed signs of domoic acid poisoning, which occurs when they eat fish that have consumed toxic algae.
For the sea lions, this type of poisoning results in disorientation, seizures, and even brain damage or death. When wildlife officials arrived on the scene, the sea lion was "behaving unusually," biting sticks and even the metal base of a lifeguard tower while "in a state of stupor," says Tognazzini. The animal is now in the care of the Marine Mammal Center, which has picked up two dozen sea lions showing similar signs over the last 10 days. That's no reason to stay out of the water, according to Tognazzini, who describes the attack as "a complete anomaly." Still, it's sure changed Megan's view of sea lions. "Now I think they're really scary," she tells ABC. "I don't want to get near one or see one ever again." (A sea lion snatched a girl in Canada.)