Megan Pagnini: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

sea lion

AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images) A 160-pound sea lion similar to the one shown, attacked 13-year-old Megan Pagnini at Pismo Beach. The animal was later found to be suffering from Domoic Acid Toxicity, a neurotoxin found in shellfish and fish that can cause disorientation and aggression.

A California teen is recovering after an unprovoked attack by a sea lion. The horrifying incident was caught on video by one of her friends. Megan Pagnini, 13, was playing in the knee-deep surf when a sea lion unexpectedly came up behind her, suddenly lunged, and bit her on the thigh.

“I remember feeling it on my leg and absolutely freaking out,” she recalled while speaking with Inside Edition. All I remember is just like, falling and it finally letting go and just running as fast as I possibly could where my friends were and just screaming and crying.”

Experts warn that humans should be careful whenever they encounter wildlife. “If you see a seal or sea lion, you should get away from it. They could bite,” warned Jeff Cozad, executive director with the Marine Mammal Care Center in Los Angeles.

Here’s what you need to know about Megan Pagnini and her run-in with a sea lion.

1. Megan Thought Sea Lions Were Like The “Puppies of the Sea”

The attack occurred on June 14 around just north of the Pismo Beach pier in Central California. Megan was out having fun with friends who when the terrifying incident occurred.

Megan told Good Morning America that she was just out in the water having fun and “taking silly pictures,” when she said the sea lion just “came over and bit my leg.” Beachgoers quickly rushed to Megan’s aid. Megan was transported to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo for treatment. Hospital staff consulted with wildlife officials to make certain Megan received the proper antibiotics.

“After her leg was wrapped up and everything, she turned looked at my husband and me and apologized to us, like she had ruined our weekend or something. And it really melted my heart that that little girl was worried about us in that moment,” witness Nicki Thessen, shared with CBS 17 during a phone interview.

“I started screaming as loud as I could to see if someone could help me,” Megan told ABC News, who is recovering but needed stitches for her wound and is using crutches to get around.

Experts agree that sea lion attacks are very rare.

“I thought they were just so cute and little and mostly just like little like beans that were just swimming around being cute,” she told ABC News. “I thought they were just the most adorable little things. They’re just the puppies of the sea.”

“Now I think they’re really scary and don’t ever want to get near one or see one ever again,” she said.

2. The Sea Lion Tested Positive for a Deadly Neurotoxin

The Science Behind the Center: Domoic Acid Toxicity in California Sea LionsAs part of The Marine Mammal Center's "Science Behind the Center" video series, Dr. Cara Field shares the impact of the Center's work developing treatments for California sea lions affected by domoic acid toxicity.2017-08-04T00:49:42.000Z

Earlier the same day, Pismo Beach police had noticed one sea lion who’d been acting lethargic and quiet. After the attack, the animal came up on the beach and was biting sticks and even the base of the lifeguard tower. The sea lion was captured and stayed overnight at the Marine Mammal Center’s Morro Bay facility before being transported to their Sausalito location. Veterinary staff determined the 160-pound female sea lion was suffering from Domoic Acid Toxicosis.

First discovered in the late 1980s, domoic acid is a naturally occurring neurotoxin that is released with algal blooms known as “red tide.” It’s believed that fertilizer runoff and warmer weather increase algal blooms resulting in greater quantities of domoic acid. The toxin accumulates in fish and shellfish and then maybe accidentally consumed by marine mammals. Harmless in smaller quantities, domoic acid can be life-threatening. Wildlife experts now believe domoic acid is responsible for a number of bird and marine mammal deaths.
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Symptoms of domoic acid toxicity include violent or erratic behavior, lethargy, disorientation, seizures, and death.

Animals can be diagnosed by analyzing samples of blood, urine, or feces. Environmental samples can also be studied. Because the domoic acid is water soluble, the easiest way for marine mammal experts to determine if an animal is sick is by analyzing the urine. Behavioral observation is another way to determine if an animal has been affected by the toxin.

3. Humans Can Also Develop a Similar Condition

Amnesic Seafood PoisoningGet the preface for Dr. Greger's brand-new book, How Not to Diet, by subscribing to his free newsletter at DESCRIPTION:There's a rare toxin called domoic acid that can turn up in tuna and other seafood and cause anterograde amnesia, the loss of short-term memory popularized in the movie Memento. Have a question about this…2012-05-23T12:00:04.000Z

In humans, the condition is known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) and is usually contracted after eating tainted clams, oysters, mussels or other shellfish.

The disease in humans was first discovered in 1987 after an outbreak in Canada was traced back to all of the victims eating contaminated seafood. Health officials were able to link the outbreak to mussels sold to restaurants that had been harvested in one location around Prince Edward Island. Three victims died and several others developed long-term neurological problems.

Symptoms of ASP include short-term memory loss, disorientation, visual distortions, seizures, kidney failure that can be permanent. Cooking does not affect the poison and there is no known cure for the condition.

4. Health Advisories Have Been Issued

VideoVideo related to megan pagnini: 5 fast facts you need to know2019-06-21T22:55:13-04:00

Marine mammal experts consider wildlife such as sea lions to be the oceans’ “canaries in a coal mine.” Experts agree that when the animals are sick, it can be an indicator of a potential problem for human beings. “We’re cognizant of the fact that what we see in sea lions is something of an alert for what we might see in people,” Jeff Boehm, the executive director of the Marine Mammal Center told the Los Angeles Times.

Boehm noted that health advisories were recently issued in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. “It’s wise that people heed the warnings and advisories that are out.”

5. There’s Been an Increase in the Number of Sick Sea Lions

Shawn Johnson, vice president of veterinary medicine and science at The Marine Mammal Center told the San Luis Obispo Journal it has had to rescue about two dozen sea lions in San Luis Obispo County in just the last 10 days. All appear to be suffering from domoic acid poisoning. Johnson added that most of the sea lions are female and more than half are pregnant.

Johnson explained that California sea lions travel to the Channel Islands off the California coast and give birth between June 15 to July 1.

“This is bad timing for this, right when all these females are getting ready to have these pups,” he said.

Johnson also told the paper that the Marine Mammal Center is also seeing an increase in the number of malnourished sea lion pups. The majority of the sea lions housed at the rescue facility are approximately one year old.

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