The Galapagos sea lion is an eared seal that lives exclusively near the Galapagos Islands. Also known by its scientific name Zalophus wollebaeki, it belongs to the same genus as the California sea lion. Members of this species are highly social and playful, and they can often be seen bathing under the sun, on beaches and rocky cliffs.
The Galapagos sea lion is smaller than its relative, the California sea lion. Males are larger than females, and they also develop a crest on the forehead, forming a bump-like projection. Males can grow to 2 meters or more and weigh 250 kg, while females may be 1.5 meters long and weigh 50 kg. Males have thicker necks, chests and torsos, as well as well-developed shoulders and a thin abdomen. Females have a generally slender body but thicker abdomens.
These sea lions have long, thick, pointy and whiskered muzzles. Just like other sea lions, they have pinnae or ear-like flaps. The slender bodies and flexible spines allow these sea lions to swim at high speeds underwater, as well as to take sharp turns to catch prey or to avoid predators. They can also move agilely on land, and, opposed to many other sea lions, they can move their flippers independently.
Galapagos sea lion habitat
These sea lions inhabit most of the islands in the Galapagos archipelago. There are also colonies near the offshore of Ecuador on the Isla de la Plata as well as on
Isla Gorgona in Columbia. There are reports of colonization on Isla del Coco, which is 500 km to the southwest of Costa Rica.
The diet of these sea lions consists mainly of sardines. Individuals can be observed traveling for 10 or even 15 kilometers from the coast, where they may spend several days hunting. If sea lions are safe on the ground, during these trips they are vulnerable to attacks from orcas and sharks, their main predators. During specific El Nino events, sea lions may feed on other fish due to the decrease in the number of sardines.
Bulls fight for territory, where they can host and guard a harem of up to 25 females. Breeding can take place from January to May, with no synchronization between colonies being observed. Gestation takes about 12 months. After giving birth, females will look after the pups for a week and then go on foraging trips in the ocean. Galapagos sea lion pups are weaned after around 11 months, after which they will rely on their hunting skills.