They’re loud.  They’re funny. They smell bad. They love to play. They spend their days lying in the sun, swimming, and eating fish. They are graceful in the water, clumsy and slow on land . . . So . . . What’s the difference between California Sealions and a Scuba Instructor?

For many folks one of the best memories they take away from their diving vacation in Cabo San Lucas are the encounters they have with the playful California Sealions.  We dive with them often right here in Cabo at the small rookery near Land’s End.  We also see them in big numbers at the rookery at Los Frailes just around the corner from Cabo Pulmo and at Los Islotes near La Paz.


California Sealions



The California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) is a coastal eared seal native to western North America. Its natural habitat ranges from southeast Alaska to central Mxico. Male Sea lions males are larger than females, and have a thicker neck and protruding crest. They mainly haul-out on sandy or rocky beaches, but they also frequent manmade environments such as marinas and wharves.

Sea lions are particularly intelligent and can be trained to perform various tasks. Because of this, California sea lions are commonly found in public displays in zoos, circuses and oceanariums, where they are known as the classic “seals,” and are trained by the United States for military operations.

California sea lions differ in size, shape, and coloration between the sexes. Males are typically around 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long and weigh up to 350 kg (770 lb), while females are typically around 1.8 m (5.9 ft) and weigh up to 100 kg (220 lb).  Females and juveniles have a tawny brown pelage, although they may be temporarily light gray or silver after molting. The pelage of adult males can be anywhere from light brown to black, but is typically dark brown.  The face of adult males may also be light tan in some areas. Pups have a black or dark brown pelage at birth.  Although the species has a slender build, adult males have robust necks, chests, and shoulders.  Adult males also have a protruding crest which gives them a “high, domed forehead” and it tufted with white hairs.

As an otariid, the California sea lion relies on its foreflippers to propel itself when swimming. This form of aquatic locomotion, along with its streamlined body, effectively reduces drag underwater. Its foreflipper movement is not continuous and the animal glides in between each stroke.  The flexibility of its spine allows the sea lion to bend its neck backwards far enough to reach its hindflippers. This allows the animal to make dorsal turns and maintain a streamlined posture.  When moving on land, the sea lion is able to turn its hindflippers forward and walk on all fours. It moves the foreflippers in a transverse, rather than a sagital, fashion. In addition, it relies on movements of its head and neck more than its hindflippers for terrestrial locomotion.  Sea lions may travel at speeds of around 10.8 km/h (6.7 mph),  and can dive at depths of 274 m (899 ft) and for up to 9.9 minutes, though most dives are typically 80 m (260 ft) and last less than 3 minutes.

california sealions
Sealion swimming underwater
Sea lions have color vision,, though it is limited to the blue-green area of the color spectrum. This is likely an adaptation for living in marine coastal habitats.  Sea lions have fairly acute underwater hearing.  Sea lions rely on their whiskers or vibrissae for touch and detection of vibrations underwater.

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