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Animals Up-Close

Encounters with the animals that call Mystic Aquarium home

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All animals
Zalophus californianus

California Sea Lions

Size

Males: average around 770 lbs and 8 ft in length. Females: average 176-220 lbs and up to 6 ft in length

Diet

Octopus, squid, herring, mackerel, rockfish, shellfish, cod, flounder, sculpin, and salmon

Habitat

Rocky/sandy coastal islands and mainland shorelines. Preferred haul out is on sandy beaches, but will use marina docks, boat docks, jetties, and buoys

Range

West Coast of the U.S. As far north as Vancouver, BC and as far south as Baja, CA in Mexico

Conservation Status

Lc

Least Concern

Nt

Near Threatened

Vu

Vulnerable

En

Endangered

Cr

Critical

Lw

Extinct in Wild

Ex

Extinct

Physical Description

California sea lions are “eared seals” with long narrow snouts that give them their characteristic dog-like face. They have large front flippers that they use to walk on land. They can also rotate their hind flippers to help with onshore locomotion.

There are several ways you can tell the difference between male and female California sea lions. First is their coloring. Males’ fur is chocolate brown, while females’ fur is a lighter, golden brown. Second is their size. Adult males can weigh four times as much as females. Third, male California sea lions develop a bony bump, called a sagittal crest, on the top of their skull. The sagittal crest starts growing when the males are about 4 years old and is fully developed by the time they are 7 years old.

Behavior & Diet

California sea lions are known for their intelligence, playfulness, and noisy barking. They are social on land and in the water. They are very vocal, and bark at each other to communicate. Just like humans, each has a unique voice. Mother sea lions can identify their pup’s barking from a group of hundreds of others. Sea lions also each have a unique smell. Once the mom finds her pup in the group, she smells it as a final check to make sure it’s hers.

California sea lions are faster than any other sea lion or seal in the world, with a top speed of 25-30 mph.  In the water, California sea lions are graceful and acrobatic swimmers that can dive to depths of 900 feet. They will sometimes leap out of the water in a behavior called “porpoising.”

One common behavior—called “rafting”—can make a sea lion look like it’s caught in a net. A rafting sea lion holds its flippers above the water for a long time, motionless, to rest and regulate its body temperature.

Lifespan & Reproduction

The life expectancy of California sea lions is 20-30 years.

The breeding season for California sea lions lasts from June to early August. Males will establish a breeding territory that includes up to 14 females, and will aggressively defend this territory with physical displays and vocalizations.

California sea lions nurse their pups for up to a year. During this period, the mother sea lion will nurse for 1 -2 days, and then will leave her pup to feed for several days. The pups are left alone while the mother is out feeding.

At Mystic Aquarium

Visitors to Mystic Aquarium can visit our California sea lions at the Foxwoods Marine Theater. There is an expansive underwater viewing area in the Main Gallery, and several shows with our sea lions and their trainers throughout the day.

While we are proud that educational information on sea lions is delivered with your entertainment in mind, the behaviors exhibited by the animals in the show are an important part of animal care and enrichment. All training is based on positive reinforcement, meaning that no sea lion is ever punished if he or she doesn’t exhibit a certain behavior. Their training includes behaviors they would do in the wild as well as behaviors that help them become accustomed to health checks, such as opening their mouths wide so the veterinary staff can examine their teeth.

Meet our California sea lions

Clara

Sakari

Pyp

Cali

Maia

California sea lion FAQs

What is a California sea lions habitat?

California sea lions frequent rocky and sandy beaches of coastal islands and mainland shorelines.

Where do they live?

As far north as British Columbia, Canada to as far south as Baja California and Mexico.

What are their threats in the wild?

Because they are often found at marinas, boat docks and jetties, the largest threat posed to California sea lions are human interaction injuries like entanglement, harassment and pollution.

Meet our Sea Lions!

Explore a variety of up-close encounter experiences with our California sea lions!