California Sea Lion

Theme area:  Sea Lion Rock
Scientific name:  Zalophus californianus
Class:  Mammals
Order:   Carnivores
Suborder:   Pinnipeds
Family:   Otariidae
Continent:  North America
Habitat:  Coastal marine habitats and rockeries
Diet:  Piscivore
Weight:  110 - 390 kg
Size:  2 - 2.4 m
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European Ex-situ Programme (EEP)

European Ex-situ Programme (EEP)


Male: 2.4 m and 390 kg, sexual maturity reached between 4 and 5 years old

Female: 2 m and 110 kg, sexual maturity reached between 4 and 5 years old

At birth: 80 cm and 6 to 9 kg. The pups are weaned at about 1 year of age, although nursing may last longer if the female does not give birth to another pup.

Life span: 25 years for females and 20 years for males. 



The California sea lion lives primarily on the west coast of the United States and Mexico, but its range can extend from the Gulf of Alaska to Costa Rica. 



The California sea lion inhabits the continental shelf and low slopes near rockeries or beaches on which females and juveniles live almost year-round.  Adult males spend more time in the water.



Sexual dimorphism is pronounced in this species. The male may weigh 3 to 4 times as much as the female and be up to 1.2 times her size. From the sub-adult stage, equivalent to the adolescent stage in humans, it is darker than the female. When mature, it has a bony crest on the top of its skull, which gives it the appeal sought by females! The adult male and the sub-adult are extremely noisy. They bark relentlessly to attract females and keep other suitors away. The species is polygamous. The male arrives before the females on the beaches. It defends its territory for about 45 days, to which the females will come to give birth to the young conceived the previous year. Gestation lasts one year, taking into account a delayed implantation period of about 3 months, i.e. after mating, the embryo does not develop.  If the mother is in good condition (enough food, no disease), the fetus will develop. The single pup is born between May and July. Females are fertile one to two weeks after giving birth.

The mother then stays on dry land for a week without leaving her pup in order to nurse it frequently.  She will, then, alternate hunting periods of 2 to 3 days with nursing periods of 2 to 3 days. 



The California sea lion eats mainly fish, crustaceans and cephalopods.  Depending on the region, the time of year, its age and the abundance of prey, it hunts more or less one or the other available species.



The main predators of the California sea lion are Killer whales and sharks.  On land, coyotes prey on newborns.



During the 19th and 20th centuries, California sea lions were hunted for their pelts and for bounties that were awarded to reduce their impact on fishing.

Conflicts with fishermen, poaching and accidental entanglement in fishing nets are the main threats to this species.  Their position at the top of the food chain also causes them to accumulate large amounts of PCBs and DDTs, which weaken their immune systems and reproduction rates.



Protection measures initiated in the United States in 1972 and then followed by Mexico have allowed the population to recover its numbers.

Limit marine pollution.



Extinct in the wild
Critically endangered
Near threatened
Least concern
Insufficient data
Not evaluated


The sea lion family belongs to the pinniped group along with seals and walruses.

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