"Pancho" the sea lion made a name for himself when he snapped a dorado from the hands of Baja fishermen back in 2013 – but these days, the local celebrity doesn't have to steal his meals. 

We caught this guy ridin dirty a few weeks back in Cabo! #biggie 🐟

A post shared by B R E N T B I E L M A N N (@brentbielmann) on Jun 20, 2017 at 8:46pm PDT

While this clip from surfing photographer Brent Bielmann didn't end in any misfortune, feeding sea lions is a terrible idea (and intentionally taunting them like this is doubly stupid). We saw this first-hand when one of these animals dragged a young girl from a British Columbia dock last month.

Don't let their "puppies of the sea" nickname fool you: sea lions are social creatures, but there's a reason wildlife officials often liken them to bears. While the B.C. encounter was certainly scary, the child involved in that incident got off relatively lightly. In 2007, a sea lion mauled a 13-year-old girl who had been surfing behind a speedboat in Australia, causing cuts to her throat, a broken jaw and three lost teeth.

A bull California sea lion like Pancho can weigh 700-800 pounds (over 300kg), and you'd stand little chance of stopping one from dragging you fathoms below if things turned aggressive. 

What's more, these animals and their pinniped kin carry bacteria that can be dangerous to humans. A tiny microbe called Mycoplasma phocacerebrale can cause "seal finger", an infection that can affect motor function and lead to amputation of digits. Sea lions have also been known to carry syphilis. 

This isn't the first time ol' Pancho has hitched a ride on the back of fishing boats. In fact, he even had a second run-in with his viral video co-stars:

A quick search turns up dozens of similar encounters – but it's hard to blame the bull for his newfound interest in hitchhiking. The videos all feature human instigators and the allure of a free meal. One band of merry men (video below) even opted to pet the behemoth, a move that can land you hefty fines or even jail time in some countries, including the US. 

"Should I ride him?" one man asks in the video. No. No, you should not.

Hand-feeding can have unforeseen impacts on wildlife as well. NOAA Fisheries notes that, in some cases, habituated sea lions become less inclined to forage on their own. That might not be problematic for experienced adults like Pancho, but these behaviours can be passed to younger members of the social group as well.

"This increases their risk of injury from boats, entanglement in fishing gear, and intentional harm by people," says NOAA. "It can also change their natural migration patterns."

It's only a matter of time before one of these encounters goes horribly wrong. So, for the love of Pancho (and your own ten fingers), don't feed the sea lions. 


Top header image: makitani/Flickr

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that the British Columbia incident occured in San Fransisco.