This species of sea lion is often seen in large groups along the coasts of the eastern Pacific from Prince William Sound, Alaska to the southern tip of Mexico. California sea lions are social animals that communicate with various barks, growls, honks and clicks. Their sleek bodies, powerful flippers and excellent vision allow this species to hunt a variety of prey such as squid, anchovy, rockfish, whiting and mackerel.
  • Size

    Up to 7.8 feet long and 850 lbs
  • Diet

    Primarily squid, anchovy, rockfish, whiting and mackerel
  • Range

    Eastern Pacific from Prince William Sound, Alaska to the southern tip of Mexico
  • Habitat

    Near-shore waters

Physical Characteristics

Size

  • Maximum length is 6.6 feet (2 m) for female and 7.8 feet (2.4 m) for male.
  • Common weight is about 220 lbs. (100 kg) for female and 770 lbs. (350 kg) for male.
  • Maximum weight for male is more than 850 lbs. (390 kg). Maximum weight for female is more than 240 lbs. (110 kg).
  • Average weight at birth is 13-20 lbs. (6-9 kg).
  • Average length at birth is 30 inches (75 cm).

Swimming/Diving

  • Fastest of the sea lions.
  • Reported swim speed between 6-8 mph (10-13 kph); maximum swim speed of 25 mph (40 kph) for a short distance.
  • Average dive length of 1.5-2.8 minutes; maximum dive length of about 10 minutes.
  • Average dive depth of 66-164 feet (20-50 m); maximum dive depth of about 900 feet (274 m).

Vision

  • Large eyes with excellent vision both in and out of water and in low-light conditions.

Animal Fact

California sea lions are members of the family Otariidae, or “eared seals,” and have small, external ear flaps, or “pinnae”. “True seals,” are members of family Phocidae, these species do not have external ear flaps, only small ear holes

Diet / Feeding

  • Opportunistic feeder; feeds mainly at upwelling areas.
  • Diet primarily consists of squid, anchovy, rockfish, whiting and mackerel, though this may vary among populations and throughout range.
  • 34-38 cone-shaped teeth and four canine teeth; sea lion catches its food with teeth and then swallows it whole.
  • Adult eats an estimated 5-8% of its body weight every day.
  • Male does not eat during breeding season.
  • May hunt alone or cooperatively; males may gather at the mouths of freshwater rivers for fish.
  • May feed cooperatively with cetaceans and seabirds.
  • May seize fish from fishing lines and nets.

Range / Habitat

  • Range  Occurs in the Eastern Pacific from Prince William Sound, Alaska to the southern tip of Mexico.
  • Habitat    Found in near-shore waters, on the shores of islands and along the mainland on a variety of substrates including beaches, rocky platforms and outcroppings and man-made structures.

Reproduction & Growth

  • Both sexes reach sexual maturity by 4-5 years of age.
  • Breed mainly at Channel Islands and islands along northern Pacific coast of Baja California as well as in the Gulf of California.
  • Mating occurs from late spring to early fall; most births occur in June.
  • Males form groups of females called rookeries on beaches and compete with other males through physical display, vocalizations and combat to protect their territories.
  • After breeding season, some males migrate north while females remain relatively close to breeding areas.
  • Gestation period lasts about 11 months, however California sea lion exhibits delayed implantation, meaning that, although the egg is fertilized at the time of mating, it does not implant and begin to develop until sometime in October. Therefore, females actually produce a pup in about 7-8 months.
  • Females generally give birth to a single pup. Nursing lasts about eight days, then mother will forage for 2-3 days at a time away from pup, before returning to continue nursing.
  • Females may wean pups at six months of age, but pups may continue to nurse for up to a year or more.
  • Females come into heat about two weeks after giving birth; mating typically occurs about 15-30 days after giving birth.

Additional Information

Lifespan

  • Median lifespan for California sea lion in natural habitat is 7.7-11.5 years.
  • Median lifespan for California sea lion in human care is 23.5 years.
  • Oldest sea lion recorded in a natural habitat was 17 years old.
  • Oldest sea lion recorded in human care was 31 years old.

Social Units/Behavior

  • Social animals.
  • Hundreds may form groups called colonies at haul-out sites or at the surface of the water, floating in “rafts.”
  • Vocalize through barks, growls, honks and clicks.
  • May jump out of the water, a behavior known as “porpoising,” or surf in the waves.

Swimming

  • Fastest of the sea lions.
  • Reported swim speed between 6-8 mph (10-13 kph); maximum swim speed of 25 mph (40 kph) for a short distance.
  • Average dive length of 1.5-2.8 minutes; maximum dive length of about 10 minutes.
  • Average dive depth of 66-164 feet (20-50 m); maximum dive depth of about 900 feet (274 m).

Sources

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