It’s very easy to confuse sea lions with seals. This is understandable, considering they are in the same scientific group of mammals, including walruses. The differentiating factor between seals and sea lions is the earflaps: sea lions have small earflaps on their head sides, while seals don’t. Instead, they have small, hole-like openings.
Generally, these species are fascinating. Their habitat, diet, and mating behavior are all worth your time. Here are some detailed sea lion facts to get you acquainted.
1. There Are 6 Sea Lion Species
6 sea lion species are available, each with a special appearance, adaptations, and general preferences. The California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) is the most popular. In fact, when someone mentions a sea lion, they are most likely referring to the California species.
Native to western North America, the natural habitat of the California sea lion is Mexico, southeast Alaska, and the Gulf of California. The other five sea lion species include the following:
New Zealand sea lion/ Auckland sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri)
These are native to New Zealand and are amongst the largest animals found in the region. They are sometimes referred to as the hooker’s sea lion. The species is notorious for feeding on others, such as the fur seals, and are classified as endangered.
Northern/ Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus)
Steller sea lions are the biggest of the species. Adults can grow to 11 feet, weighing about 2500 pounds. The near-threatened species is predominant in the northeast Pacific Ocean. You can also find them in some parts of north-central California, Washington, and Alaska.
The South American sea lion (Otaria byronia)
Rarely referred to as the Patagonian sea lions, the South American sea lions are one of the most abundant marine mammals. Their yellowish-orange belly makes them distinct. From North Peru to Brazil, you will find these sea lions anywhere on the shores of South America. They are manned and heavy-bodied.
The Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki)
Even though they are not as big as the Steller sea lions, adult Galapagos sea lions can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Compared to the other species, they are very huge.
Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerera)
These are famous for their striking dark brown pigment and light yellow mane. Also spelled Australian sealion, this species is the only endemic pinniped in Australia. They are primarily affected by persistent parasitic infections.
Initially, there were 7 species of sea lions. However, the Japanese sea lions became extinct over time. You can only find them in books or online today.
2. Sea Lions Can’t Breathe Under Water
Sea lions are mammals, which means they do not have the required physical features to breathe underwater. However, they are so good at holding their breath and can survive up to 20 minutes in water. They are also excellent swimmers, diving to extraordinary depths.
Unlike dolphins, sea lions usually exhale before getting into deep waters. They naturally close their nostrils and dive away. However, it remains ironical that they are called sea lions yet they can’t deal with the waters for prolonged periods.
3. They Can Live Up To 30 Years
Sea lions’ lifespan depends on whether they are under human care. They can survive up to 20 years alone, but the number can increase to 30 if taken care of. Understandably, these species face threats such as hunting and adverse weather conditions in the wild, reducing their chances of survival.
On the other hand, human care guarantees food, medical care, and a safe environment, perfect conditions for sea lions to survive.
4. Sea Lions Roar Like Regular Lions
Especially when mating or in danger, it’s common to hear sea lions growl, bleat, or roar. They are among the most vocal mammals. With some species growing manes around their heads, it’s easy to see why they are often compared to lions, hence their name.
5. They Are Semi-Aquatic and Carnivorous
All sea lion species can survive on land and in water. However, because they are mammals, they are best at home on the shores and coasts. They only dive in water when escaping danger or feeding. Their diet includes fish, squid, octopus, mollusks, and crustaceans.
6. Female Sea Lions Initiate Mating
Often are the times that the males initiate mating. However, for sea lions, the “role” is reversed. When the mating season comes, usually late June and early July, the female sea lions display submissive postures to lure the males.
Copulation usually happens on land or in shallow waters, lasting a few minutes or hours. Most species usually breed only once per season.