screengrab from YouTube
Michael Fujiwara had no idea his plan to grab a coffee and stroll through Steveston on this warm and clear Saturday evening would change his life.
It was around 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, and the SFU engineering student had just made the five-minute drive from his Richmond home to Steveston Village.
Strolling along the new public sales float, the 23-year-old saw what he later described as a seal on his YouTube video, popping its head up out of the water at Steveston Landing.
A small crowd of about 10 or 15 curious onlookers, mostly adults but including an elementary school-aged girl in a white dress, had gathered behind a fish boat.
With a Starbucks drink in one hand, he took out his Samsung Galaxy Edge cell phone to shoot a shocking two-minute-and-15-second video that’s now been viewed more than 27 million times.
“At the time, I thought it was a seal and I didn’t think it could be aggressive. I never saw that side of the animal. So when it jumped up, I didn’t see that as a warning from the animal,” Fujiwara told The Richmond Sentinel.
When he saw that other adults weren’t alarmed by the animal’s presence, he figured things must be fine.
But as he soon after learned, this wasn’t a 50-kilogram seal, but a member of a more aggressive sea mammal species known as sea lions, which can weigh up to 400 kilograms.
After initially surging toward the girl and pulling its body out of the water by about a metre—which drew nervous laughter from the bespectacled girl in the white dress as well as oohs from adults—the sea lion showcased its full size, speed and aggression when it used its mouth to pull the girl into the water from the edge of the dock, where she’d sat briefly with her back partially turned to the water.
The girl’s grandfather quickly jumped in after her, and pulled her to safety, with help from Fujiwara and others who were stunned by what they’d seen.
Fujiwara was reached a couple of days after the incident, and he said he was still feeling shaky about what he’d witnessed. He’d already been interviewed by dozens of media outlets, including CNN, BBC, People Magazine and even Good Morning America.
“It’s been overwhelming. I haven’t been able to sleep for the last two days.”
He hopes the video will continue to raise awareness that wildlife is unpredictable and dangerous.
“It could have been a lot worse. Thank God she came out unharmed,” he said.
Within an hour of the incident, Fujiwara uploaded the video.
And after the video began to garner widespread attention on social media and tens of thousands of views, he was contacted by Jukin Media, which he later signed a contract with.
Mike Skogmo, vice president of communications for Jukin, wouldn’t discuss precisely how much Fujiwara will earn from his video, but said a similarly-popular video earned the maker tens of thousands of dollars.
Jukin Media’s team, in Los Angeles, reached out to Fujiwara after recognizing the potential value in the video.
Aside from ads placed on his YouTube video, Fujiwara will benefit from future licensing fees from news organizations who want to feature the clip or producers of caught-on-tape style videos.
Planning to graduate in the spring of 2018, Fujiwara hopes the video will pay off his tuition.
“I don’t think I want to get close to one again, ever.”