California Sea Lion

California Sea Lion



COMMON NAME: California sea lion, Galapagos sea lion
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Pinnipedia
FAMILY: Otariidae
GENUS SPECIES: Zalophus (lophus translates into crest) californianus


DESCRIPTION: Like other "eared" seals, California sea lions have prominent external ear flaps and long foreflippers covered in fur past the wrist and tiny claws. The hind flippers are shorter and also have short claws at the ends of the digits.
MALE Adult male California sea lions have a prominent sagittal (cranial) crest, making them easy to distinguish from females and immature males. Mature males also tend to be a much darker brown color and are substantially larger than adult females. Unlike many other species of sea lion, California sea lion males lack a well-defined mane.
FEMALE Mature females and immature males are light yellowish to tan in color and lack the prominent sagittal crest of the adult male.
SIZE: Newborns are about 75 cm (30 in.) long
MALE Up to 2-2.5 m (6.5-8 ft.) long
FEMALE Up to 1.5-2 m (5-6.6 ft.) long
WEIGHT: At birth, sea lion pups weigh about 6 kg (13 lb.)
MALE 200-400 kg (441-882 lb.)
FEMALE 50-110 kg (110-243 lb.)
DIET: Fishes, squid and octopus
GESTATION: Gestational period 11 months; possibly up to 3 months of delayed implantation
ESTRAL PERIOD About 3 weeks after giving birth in June and July
NURSING DURATION 6 months to a year (wean)
SEXUAL MATURITY: 4-5 years for both males and females
LIFE SPAN: 15-25 years
RANGE: British Columbia to northern Mexico
HABITAT: Inhabit rocky and sandy beaches of coastal islands and mainland shorelines along the coasts
POPULATION: GLOBAL About 200,000 for the California subspecies; the Japanese subspecies is considered extinct
STATUS: IUCN Not listed
CITES Not listed
USFWS Not listed


1. Sea lions are adapted for movement on land as well as in the water. Wing-like front flippers have a bone structure similar to that in our arms and hands. Swimming with these flippers propels the sea lion forward, while the hind flippers steer. Both pairs of flippers enable a sea lion to walk on land.
2. Sea lions produce loud roars help explain why they're named after lions. Males of some sea lion species even grow thick manes around their necks.
3. Most sea lion pups are born in late June. Pups are well developed at birth. Their eyes are open, they can vocalize, and even swim a little. Several days after the pup's birth, the mother leaves the pup in the crowded rookery as she searches for food in the ocean. When she returns, the mother emits a loud trumpeting vocalization, which elicits a bleating response from her pup. This exchange continues until the mother and pup find each other. She makes her final identification by smelling her pup.
4. California sea lions are among the most gregarious marine mammals, forming dense aggregations of a thousand or more animals on land. They also may travel, socialize or rest at the surface in groups of ten or more near haul out areas.
5. For more information about California sea lions, explore the CALIFORNIA SEA LION INFO BOOK.


As for other marine mammals, the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 protects California sea lions.


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Nowak, Ronald M. (ed.). Walker's Mammals of the World. Vol. II. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

Parker, S. (ed.). Grizmek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. IV. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., 1990.

Reeves, R. R., Stewart, B.S., Clapman, P.J., and J.A. Powell (Peter Folkens illustrator). National Audubon Society: Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. New York: Random House, 2002.

Reeves, R.R., Stewart, B.S. and S. Stephen. The Sierra Club Handbook of Seals and Sirenians. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1992.

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