California Sea Lion

These pinnipeds are quite often seen in harbours and similar areas close to human activity, although now they only breed on offshore islands.

California sea lions spend the year moving up and down the Pacific cpast of North America. In autumn and winter, most males move north to feed off the coast of British Columbia. The females and young stray less far from the breeding grounds, and probably head south at this time.

Males have a pronounced crest on the head with a mane of longer white hair, which explains why they are called sea lions. They are vocal animals, with a loud bark. Although often inhabiting coastal waters, California sea lions may spend days out at sea, and can dive down to depths of 274 m (900 ft).

The sea lions are seldom far from the shore at any time of the year. They generally go on foraging trips at night, although they are often active during the day as well. Each trip can last for several hours.

California sea lions have less heavyset bodies than most sea lions because they live in warmer waters. They are fast swimmers, reaching speeds of 40 kmh (25 mph).

During the summer breeding season, the sea lions congregate on flat beaches in the central area of their range. Most choose sandy habitats, but will use open, rocky areas if necessary. The males arrive first and fight each other for control of small territories on the beaches and in the water. They can only hold their territories for a few weeks before having to swim away and feed. Their young grow rapidly, and are hunting with their mothers at two months old. Sea-lion milk is the only mammalian milk that does not contain lactose.

Distribution: Occurs down the western side of North America, extending from the coast of British Columbia down to Baja California. Also found in the Sea of Cortez.

Habitat: Ocean islands and coastline.

Weight: 91 - 340 kg (201 - 750 lb); males are heavier.

Length: 180 - 250 cm (71 - 98 in).

Maturity: About 5 years, but males are unlikely to mate until they are older.

Gestation Period: 341 - 365 days.

Breeding: 1; weaning occurs at 26 weeks.

Diet: Piscivorous, hunting a variety of fish, including whiting, sardines and anchovies, as well as squid.

Lifespan: 10 - 15 years in the wild; up to 30 in captivity.

Status: Vulnerable.

Colouration

The female California sea lion is a lighter shade of brown than the male.

Pups

Young California sea lions are born with their eyes open.

Front flippers

These are relatively long, and help sea lions to move on land.

Ears

The ear flaps are small, and tucked close against the skull.

DIVING UNDERWATER

California sea lions have special flaps on their ears and nostrils, which can be closed to seal the ears and nose when underwater.

Gallery of California Sea Lion