Sea Lions: Dogs of the Sea

The sea lion encounter contains California sea lions, also called Zalphus Californianus. These creatures are part of the Otariidae family, also known as walking seals, that use their front flippers to move around on land. In fact, most trained seas that perform in zoos and animal habitats are California Sea Lions. They are playful creatures that interact constantly with their environment and with humans. Their vocalizations sound like short barks, which may be where they got their names. According to fossil remains, sea lions are believed to have first arrived in California between 120,000 and 220,000 years ago.

Physical Traits of Sea Lions

During the sea lion encounter you will observe the distinctive appearance that sets sea lions apart from all other marine animals. They have short, thick fur that feels slick to the touch when it is wet. Males are typically chocolate brown in color, while females are a lighter, golden brown color. The size and weight of sea lions varies widely, with males reaching a much larger size than females. Males can reach up to 7 feet long and weigh up to 850 pounds, while females only reach around 6 feet long and weigh between 200 to 400 pounds.

Both male and female sea lions have a very distinctive dog-like face with long whiskers that emerge near their nose. They have two fore flippers and two hind flippers that assist with balance and movement on both land and sea. Both sexes have tales and ear flaps, but they are typically very small and not easily visible unless you are up close. When sea lions are young, it can be difficult to tell the difference between males and females without a close examination. However, once males reach around five years old they develop a distinctive raised bump on top of their head, which is called a sagittal crest.

Habitat Range

California sea lions live in diverse areas around the world, with colonies currently existing in Vancouver Island, British Columbia and in the southern tip of Baja California in Mexico. There is even a population of California sea lions that live on the Galapagos Islands located in the Pacific Ocean. At one time, California sea lions even lived in the Sea of Japan, but it is believed that the population died out around the time of World War II. Sea lions travel mainly to breed. Although the creatures spend much of their time in water, breeding and birth occur on land. Some baby sea lions have been born on natural beaches in Año Nuevo and the Farallon Islands in central California, but most are born on offshore islands. California's Channel Islands are a common breeding location for sea lions due to the privacy and lack of human development.