California Sea Lion

Whether waddling about the beach or leaping in aerial displays, California sea lions are expert entertainers. Unlike seals, sea lions have long, strong foreflippers and can rotate their rear flippers forward to stroll along on land. Sea lions are also more gregarious, boisterously bonding on land while seals are the sleek, silent type (see harbor seals). And they have visible ears.

Inhabiting the Pacific Coast of North America, the dark brown California sea lion is often seen sunning on the shore in large colonies. Between May and August they are there to breed, and the males, measuring 7 ½ feet long and weighing 700-1,000 pounds, are jockeying for position and female harems. Sea lions are sexually dimorphic, meaning the lads far outweigh the lasses: female California sea lions reach a comparatively paltry 6 feet in length and 240 pounds.

But the California sea lion isn’t the only show in town. Steller, or northern, sea lions also roam the sunshine coast, albeit in far smaller numbers. The largest of the lions, Steller males reach 10 to 11 feet and weigh up to 2,500 pounds. Steller lions are also lighter in color and sport the mane-like fur that earned the species its title.

The healthy California sea lion population is in little danger of decline. Sadly, the Steller sea lion is joined by the South American, Australian, New Zealand, and Galapagos varieties on the endangered list. A former Japanese population is now extinct.

All the sea lion species live up to 30 years and share a similar diet of fish, squid and shellfish. Their main predators are killer whales and white sharks.

Not fun fact: California sea lions have a high rate of cancer that scientists have linked to a combination of pollutants and a form of the herpes virus.

— Clark Tate