California Sea Lion

Scientific Name:
Zalophus californianus
male: 2.0 m (6.6 ft); female: 1.5 m (4.9 ft)
male: 270 kg (600 lbs); female: 60 kg (130 lbs)
Squid, octopus, herring, rockfish, mackarel, small sharks

Physical characteristics

The California sea lion has ear flaps and a stocky, small head with a short snout. It has long, strong pectoral flippers and hind flippers that can rotate forward. It has a thick fur coat.

Behavioral characterization

California sea lions have large pectoral flippers that allow for them to walk and climb onto land. These same flippers can be used to swim through the water in a flying like motion. They can be seen in groups when hauled out, especially in breeding rookeries. They can also travel, hunt, and haul out as individuals.


Southern California to central Japan. The breeding grounds are the Robben Island, Commander Islands, Pribilof Islands, Bogoslof Island and San Miguel Island.

Population size



Great white sharks and killer whales.

Migration/Dispersal patterns

After the breeding season the male adults and subadults migrate northwards to feed and winter along the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, eventually returning south to the rookeries from March to May. Many of the males from Baja California spend the winter in California. The females are thought to stay near the rookeries all year round.

Social system/Group size

Very large groups rest closely together and float together in "rafts".

Major threats

Malnutrition because of pollution and El Nino events and the entanglement in fishing gear. Human disturbance may significantly increase the stress level.

Research efforts

The Marine Mammal Center conducts research.

Fun fact

They have very dense fur: approximately 46,500 hairs/1cm².