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Zalophus californianus

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California Sealion Zalophus californianus
Both Sea lions in the foreground are California Sea lions. The darker one has just come out of the water. After drying, the coat is a chocolate brown.(Sept 2006 GFPhoto)
Domain Eukarya
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Pinnipedia
Family Otariidae
Genus Zalophus
Species californianus
Common Name: California Sea Lion
California Sea Lion sea lion in mist
Looks like a pose for this californa sea lion. RM photo The sun had just come up when Ryan snapped this picture of the sea lions breath. RM photo
sea lions on north lawn Sea lions near main house
In the fall of 2011, the California sea lions were especially attracted up near the house in mid September . They all departed when an earthquake struck the north end of Vancouver island. California sea lions at the stairs to the main residence.
rear flippers of california sea lion teeth of sea lion Scrotum of Zalophus californianus cut sea lion
Rear flippers,doral and ventral sides Teeth of California Sea Lion:

Photos by Ryan Murphy

Scrotum of Zalophus californianus Injury probably from boat propellors. See more of human impacts on sea lions here
california sea lion underwater
California Sea Lion underwater by Ryan Murphy Oct 2011
Ecotourism Impact
California Sea Lions along with the Northerns beside the docks This California Sea lion has caught a fishing flasher as it pursued a salmon lure. Ecotourism effects on sea lion behaviour. EFFECTS OF DND BLASTING at Bentinck Island Sea lion disruption on middle island by DND blasting
rafting california sea lions
california sea lions
california sea lions
california sea lions
IIn September 1999, this California sealion, with a plastic hoop around his neck, was photographed from the docks at Race Rocks by MPA Guardian Carol Slater. California Sea Lions rafting in front of the docks.

The flippers are filled with blood vessels, so this behaviour allows heat exchange with the atmosphere. An individual with a fin up for heat exchange:

(Oct. 2006 GFPhotos)

Holding their ground as the boat docks.
california sea lions
california sea lions
california sea lions
california sea lions california sea lions
While boat occupants are ashore for a few hours the lions regain their spot on the dock. In late August, the California Sea Lions arrive back in large numbers from the outer coast . By the end of October, they often number over 1000. Reluctant to move from the docks, Sept 15, 2005 Sept. 2007. California sea lions return to the docks as soon as he boat leaves. Sept. 2007 Sea lions on the point East of the docks.
california sea lion brands on California sea lions
Compare the Northern Sealion on the left with the california sea lion beside . Mt Baker in the background

Wet fur on the stomach, dry on back, note color contrast 2 sea lions with brands
photos by G. Fletcher
alifornia sea lions are known for their intelligence, playfulness, and noisy barking. Their color tends toward chocolate brown, although females are often a lighter golden brown. Males may reach 1,000 lbs. (more often 850 lbs.or 390 kg) and 7 feet (2.1 m) in length. Females grow to 220 lbs. (110 kg) and up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in length. They have a "dog-like" face, and around five years of age, males develop a bony bump on top of their skull called a sagittal crest. The top of a male's head often gets lighter with age. These members of the Otariid, or walking seal, family have external ear flaps and are equipped with large flippers which they use to "walk" on land. The trained "seals" in zoos and aquaria are usually California sea lions.In this picture they are seen mixed in with the Northern Sea Lions on many of the islands at Race Rocks. They do prefer however, West Rock, North Rock and the North West corner and the docks area of Great Race Rocks.

In 1970 , Trevor Anderson reported to David Hancock for the Journal article "California Sea Lion as a Regular Winter Visitant off the British Columbia Coast" that " California Sea Lions had hauled out on rocks near the light every winter since 1966.... and a peak of population of 30 was reached in February, 1969."

It is clear that the population of these animals has risen considerably over the years, and by 2007, up to 300 may haul out in the fall of the year.

We often keep camera 3 on a group that remains near the docks between September and November. They tend to move out of this area with the winter storms which bring swells from the North East.


California sea lions are found from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to the southern tip of Baja California in Mexico. They breed mainly on offshore islands from southern California's Channel Islands south to Mexico, although a few pups have been born on Año Nuevo and the Farallon Islands in central California. There is a distinct population of California sea lions at the Galapagos Islands.


Sea lions do not pup at Race Rocks, it is strictly a winter haulout colony. Most pups are born on the outer coast to the South in June or July and weigh 13-20 lbs. (6-9 kg). They nurse for at least 5-6 months and sometimes over a year. Mothers recognize pups on crowded rookeries through smell, sight, and vocalizations. Pups also learn to recognize the vocalizations of their mothers. Breeding takes place a few weeks after birth. Males patrol territories and bark almost continuously during the breeding season. Gestation lasts about 50 weeks and lactation 5 to 12 months. The longevity is estimated to be around 17 years.


California sea lions are opportunistic feeders and eat such things as squid, octopus, herring, rockfish, mackerel, anchovy and whiting. The California sea lion competes with the Northern Sea Lion Eumetopias jubata for habitat and food


California sea lions are very social animals, and groups often rest closely packed together at favored haul-out sites on land, or float together on the ocean's surface in "rafts." They are sometimes seen porpoising, or jumping out of the water, presumably to speed up their swimming. Sea lions have also been seen "surfing" breaking waves.

The males are probably the most vocal of all mammals, and let out a loud incessant honking bark to protect over their territories. They are faithful to their territories, and to their harems of up to 15 females. Sea Lions swim up to 25mph which makes them one of the fastest aquatic carnivores.

Sea lions are known to damage fishing gear and steal or destroy fish in the nets. As a result a lot of California sea lions drown in nets and they are frequently shot at by commercial fishers. This video shows a sea lion with a flasher in his mouth.

Sea lions are preyed upon by killer whales. Sea lions are known to have such diseases as pneumonia, caused by a parasitic lungworm, and a bacterial infection called leptospirosis, which affects their livers and kidneys.

Other problems for California sealions involve humans. Sea lions have been found illegally shot and also caught in drift or gill nets and other marine debris. However, their population is growing steadily, and California sea lions can be seen in many coastal spots

The Californian Sea lion was once killed in great numbers for their blubber which could be made into oil, and the rest would be made into dog food. Today the seal lion is protected by international treaty which has led to a positive shift in their populations.


redtail hawk
Branded sea lions
This unusual event involving a red-tailed hawk and a sea lion was observed in October 2003. Branded Sea lions at Race Rocks : See the collection.

Ecological Equivalents: a subspecies from the Galapagos Islands.


Three subspecies are recognized: Zalophus californianus californianus (Lesson, 1828), Zalophus californianus wollebaeki (Sivertsen, 1953) and Zalophus californianus japonicus (Peters, 1866), each living in a clearly separate range. According to Rice (1998), the differences between these types justifies classification as separate species: Zalophus californianus, Zalophus wollebaeki and Zalophus japonicus


sea lion injuries
Race Rocks Marine
mammals File
Sea lions are heavily impacted by fishing and boating. This linked file and others show the results.
Go to the File on Animal Behaviour
This file is provided as part of a collaborative effort by the students, faculty, and volunteers of Lester B. Pearson College
Dec 2001
Caroline Mwaniki
(PC yr. 27)
Back to
The Race Rocks Taxonomy
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Garry Fletcher