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On sunny afternoons, many people come to watch sea lions hauled out on the docks at the East Basin Marina in the city of Astoria, on the western tip of Oregon. In the fall, when cruise ships taller than the highest building in town tie up, tourists ride the rattling tram along the waterfront to view the plush, noisy multitude. They like to take selfies next to the sign reading marine mammals are wild animals and can be dangerous! The air on the long breakwater has the rich, organic smell of hundreds of damp animals. The noise is constant, a steady chorus of barking and growling that is audible for blocks. The sea lions lounge and sleep, knock against one another, growl and pose, loll and nip, and slide noiselessly back under the waves. Sea lions will bodysurf in ocean waves and sometimes link into huge, fleshy rafts to drift. When they rest on the water’s surface, you can see one “jugging”—paddling along with one front and one rear flipper out of the water. A mob of sea lions is a mosaic of velvety brown, ever-­moving, solid as stone—simultaneously immovable object and irresistible force.

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’s most recent book is Advice for Future Corpses (Touchstone, 2018).

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