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|California Sea Lion|
The male California sea lion can grow to over 7 feet in length and weigh over 900 pounds, while females can reach over 6 feet in length and weigh up to 250 pounds.
California sea lions range from as far north as British Columbia, Canada to as far south as Baja California, Mexico.
California sea lions exhibit sexual dimorphism, where there are clear visual differences between adult males and females. Adult females and juvenile males have slender bodies while adult males have a bulkier body with a distinct crest on their head and a crown of hair around their neck. They have long broad front flippers with small claws compared to the hind flippers which have less webbing of the digits and short claws at the end of the digits. Coloration can range from a blond or tan to a dark brown.
California sea lions frequent rocky and sandy beaches of coastal islands and mainland shorelines. They are often seen at marinas, boat docks, jetties and buoys.
The diet of California sea lions consists of a variety of fishes and invertebrates such as squid and octopus.
Humans, orcas and sharks are the three major predators of California sea lions.
Mean Life Expectancy:
Mean life expectancy for female California sea lions is 22.3 years and 19.3 years for males.
Male California sea lions will reach sexual maturity at 4 or 5 years of age but will not usually breed until they are 9 or 10. Females first breed at 4 or 5 years of age. In spring, California sea lions gather at breeding areas called “rookeries”. Bulls stake out and defend territories. Females come ashore and form “female groups”, remaining with one bull or moving from territory to territory. Shortly after their arrival females give birth to a single pup. 2 weeks after giving birth, mating for next year’s pup occurs. At birth the chestnut-brown pups are 2.5 feet long and weigh about 13 pounds. Females will leave their young pup to feed, returning only to nurse her pup. A mother can distinguish her pup from the large crowd through vocalization and smell. During the mother’s absence, pups gather in groups called “pup-pods” and spend time sleeping, playing, and exploring the rookery. Within a month they are playing in tide pools, developing their swimming skills.
Mystic Aquarium's California sea lion trainer, Carey Richard, answers some questions about California sea lions. Make sure to check out more of our interview with Carey under the video tab.
Q: Can you describe the typical day of a trainer?
A: “A typical day for a sea lion trainer is about 8 hours long. We come in in the morning and the first thing we do is prepare the animals’ diets for the day. Each animal has a different diet and they eat 3 different types of fish (capelin, herring and squid) and it is based on their age and the time of the year it is. After their buckets are made for the day, we have to do a lot of cleaning. We clean the stage area where the sea lions live at night and during the day and we also sweep the bottom of the pool to make sure it looks nice for the visitors. After that, we generally have between 3-5 shows and 3-4 training sessions a day. During these sessions and shows, we work very closely with the sea lions. We make sure they are in the best possible health that they can be and we train them some brand new behaviors.”
Q: How do you train a California sea lion?
A: “To train a California sea lion, we use a theory called operant conditioning. What this means is that a behavior is modified by the consequence that follows it. For example, if a sea lion does something that we like, a behavior that is good, then we want the consequence to that behavior to be something positive. So, of course, with the sea lions our reward is fish. If the sea lions do a behavior incorrectly or a behavior that is not desired, we don’t want that consequence to be good but we also don’t want it to be bad. We want to maintain a very positive relationship with the sea lions. So if Boomerang does a behavior incorrectly, I am just going to ignore that behavior for about 3 seconds and we are then going to move on to something else.”
Q: What tools do you use to train a sea lion?
A: "In addition to the fish we use, we also use other training tools. A target pole acts as an extension of a trainer’s hand. The first thing that a sea lion is taught to do is to touch their nose to the target pole. When they do something right they hear the word “good” and of course can expect their reward of fish. With this simply target behavior, we can train a lot more complex behaviors. For example, if I want Boomerang to touch his nose to his spine; I can ask him to touch his nose to the target and move it all the way back."
Q: Can the sea lions be distinguished from one another by personality?
A: "All of our sea lions in the Marine Theater have very distinct personalities. Coco who is the oldest and largest of the group is the leader. He is the sold rock, as we like to call him. He is pretty chill and likes to hang out and is pretty much not bothered by anything. Surfer is our teenager and is a typical teenager; he has a lot of energy. If he gets something correct, he gets very excited about it. He barks a lot and dances around on the stage. Boomerang is our 4 year old and sometimes has a hard time standing still. We also have a 3 year old, Jetty. And because Jetty is still so young, he is still learning his very first show behaviors. His is very focused on his trainer and is learning new things every week which is very exciting for us to see.”
Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: “The best part of my job is that I get to educate the public about California sea lions. When it comes down to it, my job is to train them new behaviors to help better care for them while they are here at Mystic Aquarium and also to perform in the shows. My favorite part is to work with these wonderful animals.”
Species of the Month Podcast: What happens to a stranded sea lion?
Join Mystic Aquarium's Kelly Matis and MaryEllen Mateleska for a fun five minutes devoted to January's featured species: the California sea lion! In this podcast they discuss what happens to a stranded sea lion that can't be released back to the ocean.
Kelly and MaryEllen want to hear from you! Send questions, comments and suggestions for future podcast topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scientific Name: Zalophus californianus
Size: African penguins range from 18 to 25 inches tall and weigh up to 11 pounds
Range/Distribution: The only penguin to breed in Africa, the African penguin ranges from Namibia to South Africa. Young penguins have been known to migrate north and west along the coastline and are found between Southern Angola, Namibia, and sometimes found off Gabon, Congo, and Mozambique, but generally reside in South Africa.
Appearance: The African penguin has a robust, torpedo-shaped body with black feathers on their back, flippers, and head while white feathers cover their front with the exception of horseshoe-shaped black stripe on the chest. Following the penguin’s first few molts a white stripe will develop around its cheek and throat. These birds have a bare patch above their eyes to assist with regulating their body temperature.
Habitat: When not hunting for food in the water, African penguins are found along rocky shores or brushy coastal areas.
Prey: African penguins feed on 25 species of fish, such as sardine and anchovy but also prey on squid and krill. A penguin may eat up to one pound of food or up to 14% of their weight.
Predators: African penguins face predation by gulls, feral cats and mongoose while nesting on land, while sharks and fur seals hunt African penguins in the water.
Life Span: The African penguin may live up to late 30 years in an aquarium or zoo but averages of 15-20 years are seen in the wild populations.
Mating Behaviors: There are no set breeding seasons for African penguins, however, most penguin pairs are monogamous and will remain together over several breeding years. The male will prepare a nest by digging a shallow burrow in sand or in brush using guano (penguin waste) and any materials nearby to complete the nest for the female to lay two eggs. Both the male and female share the nesting and chick duties, keeping the young safe from predators and warm temperatures. The chicks will hatch between 38 and 42 days and will leave the nest when they are between 60 to 130 days of age.
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