Tourists flock to swim with sea lions near Peru’s capital

LIMA, Peru (AP) – Foreign tourists are flocking to a group of rocky islands a few miles off the coast of Peru’s capital for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a chance to swim with sea lions.

The 39 rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions who bathe gracefully and feast on abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current.

But activists warn that the largely unregulated eco-tourism activity could be potentially dangerous and disruptive to the wild animals and their habitat.

Last year, more than 20,000 tourists visited the sea lion reserve, according to the government, with most stopping at Palomino island about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the coast.

Many tourists swim just feet away from the giant mammals and snap selfies near the rocks. Small motor boats shuttle onlookers past the island throughout the day.

Local tour operators appear grateful for the boost.

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, a sea lion swims near the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Activists warn that the largely unregulated eco-tourism, in which tourists swim just feet away the sea lions, could be potentially dangerous and disruptive to the wild animals and their habitat. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, a sea lion swims near the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Activists warn that the largely unregulated eco-tourism, in which tourists swim just feet away the sea lions, could be potentially dangerous and disruptive to the wild animals and their habitat. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, a sea lion swims near the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Activists warn that the largely unregulated eco-tourism, in which tourists swim just feet away the sea lions, could be potentially dangerous and disruptive to the wild animals and their habitat. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Peru has earned a growing reputation for world-class cuisine, and the sea lions have become another offering for travelers seeking out better-known attractions like the Incan site of Machu Picchu.

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, tourists take a selfie in the water with sea lions in the background on the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Foreign tourists are flocking to a group of rocky islands a few miles off the coast of Peru's capital for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a chance to swim with sea lions. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, tourists take a selfie in the water with sea lions in the background on the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Foreign tourists are flocking to a group of rocky islands a few miles off the coast of Peru's capital for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a chance to swim with sea lions. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, tourists take a selfie in the water with sea lions in the background on the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Foreign tourists are flocking to a group of rocky islands a few miles off the coast of Peru’s capital for a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a chance to swim with sea lions. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions cover one of the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. The 39 rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions cover one of the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. The 39 rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions cover one of the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. The 39 rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, tourists observe sea lions blanketing one of the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Last year, more than 20,000 tourists visited the sea lion reserve, according to the government. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, tourists observe sea lions blanketing one of the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Last year, more than 20,000 tourists visited the sea lion reserve, according to the government. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, tourists observe sea lions blanketing one of the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Last year, more than 20,000 tourists visited the sea lion reserve, according to the government. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions swim near the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Sea lions bathe and feast on the abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions swim near the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Sea lions bathe and feast on the abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions swim near the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Sea lions bathe and feast on the abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, a tour guide shares the highlights of a tour to Palomino Islands in Lima, Peru, including visiting sea lions off the coast. Peru has earned a growing reputation for world-class cuisine, and the sea lions have become another offering for travelers seeking out better-known attractions like the Incan site of Machu Picchu. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, a tour guide shares the highlights of a tour to Palomino Islands in Lima, Peru, including visiting sea lions off the coast. Peru has earned a growing reputation for world-class cuisine, and the sea lions have become another offering for travelers seeking out better-known attractions like the Incan site of Machu Picchu. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, a tour guide shares the highlights of a tour to Palomino Islands in Lima, Peru, including visiting sea lions off the coast. Peru has earned a growing reputation for world-class cuisine, and the sea lions have become another offering for travelers seeking out better-known attractions like the Incan site of Machu Picchu. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions swim near Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. The 39 rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions who bathe gracefully and feast on abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions swim near Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. The 39 rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions who bathe gracefully and feast on abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions swim near Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. The 39 rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions who bathe gracefully and feast on abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, tourists take pictures of sea lions sunbathing and swimming at Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Last year, more than 20,000 tourists visited the sea lion reserve, according to the government. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, tourists take pictures of sea lions sunbathing and swimming at Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Last year, more than 20,000 tourists visited the sea lion reserve, according to the government. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, tourists take pictures of sea lions sunbathing and swimming at Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Last year, more than 20,000 tourists visited the sea lion reserve, according to the government. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions swim near the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Many tourists swim just feet away from the giant mammals and snap selfies near the rocks. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions swim near the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Many tourists swim just feet away from the giant mammals and snap selfies near the rocks. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Sept. 29, 2018 photo, sea lions swim near the Palomino Islands off the coast of Lima, Peru. Many tourists swim just feet away from the giant mammals and snap selfies near the rocks. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, children look at a fishermen's boat near the Palomino Islands where tourists visit sea lions off the coast of Lima, Peru. The rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions who bathe gracefully and feast on abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, children look at a fishermen's boat near the Palomino Islands where tourists visit sea lions off the coast of Lima, Peru. The rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions who bathe gracefully and feast on abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In this Aug. 8, 2018 photo, children look at a fishermen’s boat near the Palomino Islands where tourists visit sea lions off the coast of Lima, Peru. The rocky islands near Lima are home to an untold number of sea lions who bathe gracefully and feast on abundant fish that thrive in the cold-water Humboldt current. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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