Wednesday, November 23, 2011

California & Stellar Sea Lions

Sea lions , along with fur seals belong to the family of marine animals, known as eared seals.  There are two species of sea lions - first the smaller seal of the two – the California seal and secondly the Steller’s sea lion, a giant animal living from Southern California to Alaska’s Bering Straits.  A large male Stellar sea lion may weigh a ton and measure 13 feet long, while his mates weigh considerably less.  The male California sea lion weighs about half as much as the Steller’s.

Of all the marine animals, the sea lions may be the most widely known because trained seals – used in circus acts and at SeaWorld in San Diego – are more than often than not – almost always – California sea-lions , gentle , intelligent and responsive to their trainers.

Unlike most fur seals, the sea lions wear coats that are coarse and of little commercial value what so ever.  This has worked to their distinct advantage.  Yet on the other hand the sea lion’s eating habits have earned them condemnation from commercial fishermen for eons if not decades.  Sea lions live on fish, and fisher folk frequently assume that these fish are species of high market value – being in effect stolen or at least diverted away from their fishing nets and equipment.  Scientific studies however have shown that sea lions normally eat less valuable fish, although at times they sometimes consume valuable salmon.

Sea lions return, year after year, to the same rocky breeding grounds.  For the California sea lions this is often on islands from the Channel Islands, Southward from south California southward to Mexico itself.  Breeding colonies of Steller’s sea lions are found through much of the animals range, predominantly north of central California.

In spring, the males arrive first in rookeries and promptly engage in combat with other male seals, contesting the boundaries of their territories until the weaker sub-dominant males are forced to give up hope of breeding for the season.

Next to arrive are the females, ready to give birth to their pups, swimming along toward their natal islands.  The rocky shores become crowded with large noisy animals, lumbering clumsily along about on their flippers, fighting and squawling.

Within a breeding male’s harem there are usually between 10 to 20 different individual females, at birth a new born sea lion weighs generally between 35 and 50 pounds and about 40 inches long in length.  The young of the California species are somewhat smaller.  At first both grow at the same rate – with the males growing larger than the females.

Still there is nothing like the magic of seeing a trained seal at a water or animal park zoo such as Sea-World in Mission Beach San Diego.

James B. Richart
San Diego offers a wrath of attractions for the traveler or winter resident