Explore by Animal

Sea Lions

If you hear one before you see it, you’ll understand how sea lions got their name. These mountainous marine mammals — 8-foot, 1,000-pound males and 6-foot, 250-pound females — can emit thundering roars.

Even newborns are noisy, vocalizing with their moms right away. These precocial pups are born with their eyes and their mouths open.

California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) also bark, growl and squeal. In the mid-1800s, large assemblages along the beaches and rocky shores of the Pacific Coast could be heard by people on ships far out to sea.

Sea lions spend a lot of time on land. With their large front flippers, they can run faster than a human. But mostly they haul out and bask, and the males stake out and noisily defend territories during the mating season. The most coveted territories are right on the shore so the animals have access to cooling water on hot days. (But sea lions seldom drink — they get most of their water from their food.)

The Abbott Oceanarium offers deluxe accommodations for its resident sea lions. The newly remodeled habitat is two-and-a-half times larger than the original, with a deeper pool. For the sea lions’ fans, there’s a viewing window along the haul-out area, and the habitat has a sturdy mesh front so that you can get close enough to the sea lions to breathe the same air as they do.

You might notice that their breath is kind of fishy.

California sea lions are seafood lovers who eat more than 50 kinds of fish — including rockfish, flatfish, hake and salmon – as well as octopus, squid and abalone.

For all their heft, sea lions are sleek and streamlined under water, and they can swim 15 to 20 miles per hour and make tight turns to catch their prey.

The sea lions that live near the Bonneville Dam on the Washington-Oregon border developed a taste for endangered salmon. Climbing the “fish ladder,” a stair-stepped waterfall that allows spawning salmon headed upstream to swim around the dam, the sea lions had easy access to their imperiled prey. To protect the salmon, federal and state wildlife officials took the extreme action of culling this sea lion group. Shedd is one of several zoos and aquariums that stepped forward to rescue a few of the animals, working out a relocation program with the wildlife agencies. In 2009, Shedd adopted an adult male, Biff, named for a place along the Pacific Coast where sea lions live. The aquarium added Tanner, another salmon poacher who was named for a creek near the dam, in 2012. They joined Tyler, who was born at Sea World San Diego in 2001 and came to Shedd in 2005.

California sea lions themselves are threatened due to dwindling natural habitats and aggressive commercial fishers, despite being protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. Shedd’s fourth sea lion, an energetic youngster born in 2011, is totally blind from a gunshot wound. Cruz, named for the Santa Cruz, California, beach where he was rescued, doesn’t let his lack of vision slow him down. Since arriving at Shedd in December 2012, he has become comfortable with his environs and his trainers, who use rattles and verbal cues in his training sessions. He’s a quick learner.

Visit the Abbott Oceanarium soon. These gregarious animals might blow you a kiss—or bowl you over with a roar. And maybe one will just amaze you with his resiliency.


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