'Cars stopped to watch the sea lion chase him up the street' - How Bobby the sea lion saved a South Elmsall dolphin trainer from a 'thumping'

Former South Elmsall dolphin trainer, David Holroyd, tells the story of his unlikely friendship with a bull Calefornia sea lion named Bobby and how the creature came to his rescue...

Monday, 24th May 2021, 1:17 pm
Cars stopped as the sea lion chased him across the road' - how Bobby the sea lion protected his South Elmsall trainer

Back in the 1970s David Holroyd became one of the UK's leading dolphin trainers after learning his trade at a pool in a mining town. And he has told the Express about his experiences as a teenager of training aquatic mammals at the South Elmsall swimming pool and how he turned his back on his profession to become an animal activist.

As well as dolphins other residents included a large bull California sea lion named Bobby.

David said the large sea lion came to West Yorkshire from Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester, after he attacked a member of the public after she leant over his pen and bit her breast.

But he and Bobby would form a great bond, after he saved David from getting a ‘thumping’ from a local miner.

David said: “The company sent Bobby to South Elmsall and actually told the authorities that he’d been put down following the attack, because he was worth too much money.

“So they sent him to me, and I was just a young kid who’d never even seen a sea lion, let alone a male bull of his size.

“I’d become quite friendly with him, because I fed him every day and looked after him."

One morning, David took a trip to the village fishmongers to pick up dinner for the animals.

He’d parked on the main road outside the pool doors, rather than his usual parking spot around the side of the facility to ease the slog of carrying the heavy crate of fish.

Young David walked into the facility, left the fish to defrost in the sink and began cleaning the pool room with a deck scrub, while Bobby the sea lion entertained himself in the pool.

It wasn’t long until an aggravated miner from the pit opposite would burst through the doors, ignoring all signs stating the pool was off limits to members of the public.

The man had entered the secure facility and began shouting abuse at David from the poolside.

David said: “It turns out that where I’d parked my car was his space.

“As South Elmsall was such a small village, it was very close knit, so everyone had their own space, whether it be a parking spot or a chair in the local pub.”

Taken back by the miners' audacity to enter the restricted training pool, David became angry and began to retaliate.

David said: “The miner walked into the poolroom effing and jeffing at me, telling me to move my car and things got a bit heated between us.

“The sea lion’s still in the pool, while me and this miner are about to box each other.

“And as I’m walking towards him, I thought ‘where's Bobby?’”

And Bobby came to David’s rescue in this instance, as the miner drew closer.

David thinks that Bobby could sense he was in danger.

The creature dived down from the centre of the pool and made its way up to the deck to defend his carer.

Bull California sea lions, which can grow to over 7ft in height, though rare, have been known to attack humans.

David said Bobby chased after the miner, bursting through the entrance doors out of the facility and onto the streets of South Elmsall.

David said: “Bobby came to my rescue, he slid out the pool like a rocket, knocked the pool doors off their hinges and galloped along the corridor, chasing this bloke away.

“By this point the miner had run out onto the streets and Bobby followed him!

“He ran uphill, and Bobby came sliding down out of the pool and onto the road."

The sea lion chased the miner for another six yards until he began to tire.

David said: “While I’m running behind him with a deck scrubber, a young kid with hair to my shoulders, shouting for him to come back, it must have been a sight.”

Onlookers watched in bewilderment and the traffic stopped as the sea lion chased the miner through the street.

David said: “I’m sure there must be people who remember me chasing after Bobby, people stopped in their cars to watch what was going on.

“A lot of people in the village at the time had never seen a sea lion before and at that moment there was Bobby in front of them.

“We never heard from the miner again after that day!”

David tells the full story in his Manchester Evening News’ award winning recollection, entitled ‘Deliver us from Bobby!’.