Daniel Carlin caught a big fish and posed for a picture. But he had unknowingly placed himself in harm’s way.
Carlin, 62, was smiling and holding the fish he caught at Mission Bay in San Diego, California when a huge sea lion leaped over the side of the boat and snatched the fish in its jaws.
The powerful mammal-estimated at 300 pounds–also caught part of Carlin’s arm in the process, hauling him overboard in a stunning scene.
“It was terrifying. When the sea lion was taking me down and I was going at that rate of speed I knew I was going to die,” Carlin told ABC San Diego. “This wasn’t this could be it–this was this is it.”
Carlin said the sea lion ripped his arm down and crushed his chest with an unbelievable force as it took him into the ocean.
Trish, his wife, was with him and started screaming as bubbles emerged from the spot that her husband had gone into the ocean. “I look up and he’s gone,” she said.
Carlin fought with the sea lion for about 20 seconds before breaking free and swimming to the surface. On the way up, the sea lion took a final swipe and got a piece of bone from his foot.
Finally, Carlin crawled onto the boat, with multiple wounds such as a broken hand. His experience as a free diver may be what ultimately saved his life.
“He does a lot of diving, so he didn’t panic. He probably knew the sea lion would have to let him go or did something to force it to let him go,” said Mike Perry, who owns the boat that’s docked next to Carlin’s.
Lt. John Sandmeyer, who responded to the scene, added to City News that sea lion attacks are very rare.
“Obviously [he’s] a little bit in shock and this was a tough incident, very unusual, where we don’t have this kind of thing happen,” Sandmeyer said. Local lifeguards noted that people shouldn’t feed sea lions or throw fish guts overboard, actions that can lead to sea lion attacks. The Carlins insist they did neither.
Carlin, meanwhile, is keeping the photo of the sea lion latching onto his hand as his screen saver to remind himself to live life to the fullest.
“I feel very lucky to be alive,” he said.