Sea lion attacks 13-year-old girl on California beach; Neurotoxin may be to blame

PISMO BEACH, Calif. (KSBY/CNN) – Shark attacks have been all over the news recently.

A California teen is recovering after she was attacked Friday evening, but her injuries were caused by a sea lion.

State officials said the unexpected assault is extremely rare.

For Megan Pagnini, what was supposed to be a fun day at the beach with friends turned into a painful memory.

"I was just kind of jumping around, dancing, just having fun, and they’re taking funny pictures of me, and we’re just all laughing,” she said. “And then, yeah, the sea lion attacked me."

Footage recorded by Megan’s friends shows the sea lion charging at Megan in the water.

"I felt it on my leg, and I looked down and freaked out,” she said. “I didn't even know what it was. All I knew is that something was attacking me."

People walking nearby quickly jumped in to help her, shocked that something like this could happen unprovoked.

"After her leg was wrapped up and everything, she turned and looked at my husband and me, and apologized to us, like she’d ruined our weekend or something,” said witness Nicki Thessen. “And it really just melted my heart that that little girl was worried about us in that moment."

California Fish and Wildlife Patrol Capt. Todd Tognazzini said attacks like this are extremely rare.

The department is now treating the sea lion for possible poisoning by domoic acid, a toxin that impacts the brain – because they said the sea lion’s erratic behavior didn’t stop with the attack on Megan.

"We believe that was why the sea lion in this incident not only bit the person, but then came on land and bit some metal lifeguard stands," Tognazzini said.

The Pagnini family is now cautioning other families to be cautious at the beach this summer, as Megan remains uncertain she’ll ever feel comfortable going back.

"I think I know that if I ever do, I'll be a lot more cautious and careful about where I am and my surroundings," she said.

Megan said she hopes to be recovered from her injury in time to play soccer in August.

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