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California sea lion

OLogy Series
animal
card
210

California sea lion

OLogy Series
animal

California sea lions are playful, intelligent, and fast—in and out of water. Their large flippers enable them to leap out of the water, walk on land, and swim gracefully through the sea. They come from a family of marine mammals called pinnipeds, which means wing-foot. Other pinnipeds include seals and walruses.

Sea Lion Survivors
California sea lions were once hunted for their fur and blubber. By the 1920s, decades of hunting had left only a few hundred alive. In the following decades, their numbers slowly increased as demand for sea lion products declined. In 1972, their population exploded as a result of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Today, there are about 170,000 California sea lions living on the West Coast.

Sea lions got their name because the males:

roar like lions.

are considered the rulers of the sea.

have thick furry manes.

Are you right?

Correct!

Male sea lions have a thick furry mane around their neck that almost resembles the mane of a lion. Male sea lions can also be quite aggressive. Small sea lion pups that could easily be stepped on by the huge males know to stay out of their way!

Mother sea lions find their pups among hundreds of sea lions by:

distinct marks on their skin.

the sounds of each other’s barks.

a unique flipper shape shared by the mother and her pup.

Are you right?

Correct!

About a week after a female sea lion gives birth, she heads out to sea to find food. Mothers and pups first find each other by recognizing each other’s barks. Mothers can also identify their pups’ smells.

Sea lions can see better underwater, but hear better outside of water.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Like humans, the sea lion’s ears work better in air than underwater. However, even though sea lions see well on land, their eyes are best suited for spotting prey underwater.

You can tell a seal from a sea lion by counting their teeth.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Sea lions and fur seals look and act alike because they are closely related. But there are ways to tell them apart. Sea lions have shorter snouts and shorter fur than fur seals. Fur seals have fur so thick they’ve sometimes been called "sea bears."

Name: California sea lion
Scientific name: Zalophus californianus
Size: five to eight feet long, Weight: adults up to 860 pounds
Habitat: the Pacific coast from Alaska to Mexico
Diet: fish, squid, and shellfish
Predators: great white sharks and killer whales
Characteristics: dark brown (males) to light brown (females), a bony bump on top of the head

Image credits: courtesy of Hoss Firooznia.