Creature Feature: California Sea Lion

Sea Lion munch time

Photo by Liz Sheets

When visiting San Francisco’s famous Pier 39, you may be surprised to hear sounds like barking in the distance.  If you do hear it, don’t look for dogs! That barking is from the California Sea Lion, Zalophus californianus. Sea lions are playful, smart, and often noisy.  They are very social and like to hang out in groups, sunning themselves. You will find these loud creatures from British Columbia down the California coast to Baja California in Mexico.

Many confuse these playful mammals with smaller and equally sleek seals. So what is the difference between a seal and a sea lion? One way to tell is sea lions have ear flaps and large flippers that they can use to push up and “walk” around. Seals, on the other hand (or maybe the other flipper), lack the external ear flap and do not have the bone structure for the push-up flippers. The colors of sea lions are in the brown hues and females are typically a lighter hue. Males, or bulls, can be seven feet long and weigh about 850 pounds; that is significantly bigger than the six foot long, 220 pound female!  The males will also possess a large bump on their skull known as a sagittal crest.

Sea lions are opportunistic feeders, which means they eat what is available, and will be seen feeding on fish, squid, and even our local leopard sharks. These are mammals are not as large as some of their predators out in the ocean. If they don’t watch out, they can be gobbled up by Orcas and even white sharks.

 

Check out this amazing video on how sea lions

can keep with the beat of music!

 

References:

Creature Features edited by KC o’Shea

http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/education/marine-mammal-information/pinnipeds/california-sea-lion/

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/california-sea-lion/

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/pinnipeds/californiasealion.htm

 

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