Ocean Kayaking and Seeing Sea Lions
All About Sea Lions
Sea lions have a thick build and a bulky neck that represents a lion’s mane. They are therefore called the sea lion. Sea lions are a common mammal in the Pacific Ocean and those who have never ventured to the Pacific have likely seen a sea lion at their local zoos or aquariums. These are highly trainable animals and their cute tricks, such as playing catch and clapping their flippers, are popular attractions at maritime amusement parks. There are two species’ of sea lion you are likely to spot in the waters of British Columbia; they are Steller’s sea lion and the California Sea Lion.
Steller’s Sea Lion
Steller’s Sea Lion, commonly referred to as the Northern Sea Lion, are found all over the northern Pacific ocean; as far north at the Gulf of Alaska, as far south as Central California and across to the Kuril Islands that are north of Japan. These mammals are often confused with the more abundant California Sea Lions but they are much larger animals and their coloration is lighter. A male stellar sea lion can be 11 feet long and weight over a ton. Females, although much smaller than males, can grow to 9 feet and weigh 1,000 lbs.
While sea lions spend a large amount of time in the water, they also spend time on land and are able to “walk” using their four flippers. They are often seen hanging out in a large group on an offshore island. These hangouts, where both Steller and California Sea Lions can be found, are called “haul-outs.”
Steller pups are born on offshore islands between late spring and early summer. Newborns can weigh up to 50 lbs. These pups will nurse from their mother for at least one year and in some cases, up to three years. Mating will then occur again only two weeks after the birth of the pups. In the first year, mothers will divide their time equally between hunting and nursing. They will hunt for fish and invertebrates. Although sea lions are large mammals, they are still prey to the bigger and stronger orcas and white sharks.
Currently, there are an estimated 40,000 Steller Sea Lions populating the ocean. While the number seems abundant, it is representative of a severely depleted Steller Sea Lion population. (The population has dropped by 80% in the past 30 years.) For this reason, British Columbia’s Steller Sea Lion population is listed as a threatened species. Reasons for the population decline are unknown but researchers suggest that the depletion of the their food source, fish, as a potential cause and climate change. Steller sea lion’s also become entangled in fishing nets frequently, which can lead to drowning. Despite depressing numbers, there is a lot of hope for the Steller sea lion population. Steller sea lions are now protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. With federal protection, growth should be inevitable.