California Sea Lion

(Zalophus californianus)
California Sea Lion Santa Barbara Channel

Jumping California Sea Lions  - Photo Credit: Bob Perry

When out on one of our whale watching cruises, you may see California sea lions. These eared seals are found between Alaska and central Mexico, making our spot in California right within their range. They are one of six different species of sea lions, and they can be found in a variety of locations, including beaches and manmade locations, such as marinas. One of the major populations of California sea lions lives and breeds right here in the Channel Islands.

California sea lions are sexually dimorphic, which means that the males and females of the species look different. Males tend to be larger, and they have a thicker neck, as well as a protruding sagittal crest, which is a ridge on the skull.

California sea lions feed on different types of seafood, including salmon, anchovy, rockfish, and squid. On occasion, these animals will even eat clams. Depending on how much food is available, they may eat by themselves or feed in large groups, and they have even been seen partnering up with other predators when hunting. They themselves tend to be fed on by killer whales, as well as large sharks such as great white sharks and shortfin mako sharks.

California sea lions tend to be rather intelligent animals. They are capable of learning a variety of tricks and tasks, and they are commonly featured in zoos and aquariums. They have even been trained by the United States Navy for certain operations related to the military.

You will commonly find California sea lions out at sea, where they spend a great deal of their time. Between May and August, they enter breeding season, where males establish territories on land, which females move between. California sea lions will also come ashore to molt, which usually occurs after their breeding season. During molting, the California sea lions will lose their fur, and they get a new coat. They spend less time in the water during this period because they are not as able to keep warm.