The California sea lion is an eared seal that lives predominantly on the coasts of the North American continent. It belongs to the Otariinae subfamily of the Pinnipedia suborder, which includes true seals and walruses.
This California sea lion bears the scientific name Zalophus californianus. It belongs to the Otariidae family along with other sea lions and fur seals. These sea lions differ from true seals by having short ears or external ear flaps, and they can use their fore and hindflippers for locomotion on land.
The species is sexually dimorphic, with males being much larger than females. Males can reach 2.4 meters in length and weigh as much as 350 kg. Females are much
shorter, measuring up to 1.8 meters and weighing 100 kg. The males present a large crest which provides the head with a dominant and domed forehead. Individuals have robust necks, shoulders and chests which they use, along with their flippers, to swim as well as to move on land. The spine is flexible and allows sea lions to perform sharp turns in water.
They mostly use their foreflippers to propel themselves in water, arching between strokes. On land, these sea lions can run at speeds of up to 10 km per hour. They can dive at depths of over 270 meters, with most dives being no deeper than 80 meters. They can hold their breath underwater for up to 10 minutes, but they usually spend no more than 3 minutes holding their breath.
The habitat of this sea lion ranges from southeast Alaska to the central coastal waters of Mexico. There are many large populations in the temperate areas of the western coast near California, from Baja California to the Gulf of California. Sea lions typically forage under water and then retreat to cliffs or beaches to rest, sleep, mate or give birth.
These sea lions usually consume a wide range of seafood, from squid to fish and clams. Fish species that are most commonly consumed are salmon, herring, anchovies, hake and dogfish. Sea lions are usually preyed upon by killing whales and sharks, the latter usually ambushing individuals resting on shores.
Breeding occurs in rookeries, which are gatherings on shores. Males guard their territory where females can enter and leave without being coerced. Females reproduce every 12 months, with a gestation of 9 months. California sea lion pups are weaned within a year, but they may suckle for an extra year.