VANCOUVER - A heart-stopping video of a sea lion pulling a young girl into the water at a Vancouver-area wharf is a good reminder of why people should never feed wild animals, experts say.

Michael Fujiwara was having coffee at Steveston Wharf in Richmond, B.C., on Saturday evening when a sea lion popped out from the water and he took out his phone to record.

The 23-year-old said there were about a dozen people on the dock at the time, including a family that was feeding the animal bread crumbs.

A video Fujiwara posted online Saturday shows the sea lion suddenly lunge up, grab a little girl's dress and pull her into the water.

“Everyone just thought it was super friendly and all, but seconds later the girl decided to sit on the side of the dock and that's when the sea lion decided to jump out and drag her into the water,” Fujiwara said.

On the video, screams erupt from the crowd as the animal grabs the girl. A man immediately leaps in, scoops the child up and hauls her to safety.

Fujiwara said he grabbed the hands of both the girl and the man and helped pull them back up to the dock.

“I was just in shock. I didn't know what to do at first,” he said. “I've never seen anything like this before.”

The family was visibly shaken by the incident, he added, and immediately left the area.

Bob Baziuk, general manager of the Steveston Harbour Authority, said watching the video made his stomach turn.

“It's an unfortunate incident, first and foremost. I hope the little girl's okay,” he said. “But we've been trying to get that message out for years and years - don't feed the animals. You're just asking for trouble when you do that.”

California sea lions often visit the area on their migratory cycle, hoping for handouts from fisherman, but signs are posted warning people not to feed any of the animals, Baziuk said.

“It's kind of staggering and it's a really unfortunate incident. But it happened and now that video is the poster child for why you don't (feed the sea lions),” he said.

Danielle Hyson, a senior marine mammal trainer at the Vancouver Aquarium, said there has been an uptick in people feeding wildlife around the Vancouver area, from bears to birds. That behaviour leads to an increased number of dangerous close encounters.

“The more and more we feed wild animals, the more and more we're putting our selves at risk for those situations,” she said.

Hyson said Fujiwara's video appears to show the sea lion getting increasingly frustrated as the feeding stops.

“You saw him kind of initially lunge out of the water and give a little huff. That's what we would call an aggressive precursor,” she explained. “So he's letting the people know that he's starting to get frustrated. And in that situation, the people should have backed off right away.”

Frustration can lead to aggression, Hyson added, noting that male California sea lions are powerful animals that can weigh more than 200 kilograms.

Despite their power, the marine mammals have big eyes and whiskers that can tug on human heart strings.

“They look cute and I know people have a natural fascination with them. They look like they're water dogs but they absolutely are not,” Hyson said.

The trainer said she's also concerned about the little girl's health after watching the video. If the child suffered any sort of puncture or broken skin, she could be at risk of an infection that doctors could find difficult to treat.

“Seals and sea lions can carry some pretty nasty bacteria in their mouth,” Hyson said.

The Vancouver Aquarium is encouraging the family to get in touch for more information on how to handle a possible infection.