Physical Description

  • Small, streamlined marine mammals covered in brown fur with a “dog-like” face.
  • They have large flippers that they use to “walk” on land.
  • One of the easiest ways to tell sea lions and seals apart is that sea lions have visible ear flaps.
  • Males are often chocolate brown, females a golden brown.
  • Adult females grow to 220 pounds and 6 feet long.
  • Adult males grow to 7-8 feet long and can weigh 850 pounds.
  • At around five years old, males develop a bony bump on the top of their head, and the top of males’ heads gets lighter with age.


  • Nearshore waters from Vancouver Island, Canada to southern Baja California, Mexico.
  • Also found in the Gulf of California, Mexico.


  • California sea lions often breed on offshore islands.
  • They can be found closely packed together, often in the hundreds, on docks, piers, and favorite coves and beaches.
  • They are often seen sunbathing at La Jolla Cove.


  • Must pups are born in June or July.
  • Pups weigh 13-20 pounds at birth.
  • Pups nurse for 5-6 months at least, sometimes up to a year.
  • Mothers and pups recognize each other on crowded rookeries by smell and vocalization.
  • Breeding takes place a few weeks after birth.
  • Males bark almost continuously during breeding season.


  • Small fish, mackerel, rockfish, squid, octopus, herring, and small sharks.


  • They are eaten by killer whales and great white sharks.

Interesting Facts

  • California Sea Lions are very social, often living in groups of several hundred on land.
  • California Sea Lions are known for their intelligence, playfulness, and noisy barking..
  • Sea lions have been seen “surfing” the waves right next to humans..
  • The trained “seals” at zoos and aquariums are often California sea lions, due to their intelligence..

Hear a California Sea Lion’s bark

Sources: Voices in the Sea; The Marine Mammal Center

Photo: Howard Hall

To hear a California Sea Lion’s bark and see videos of them swimming, visit Voices in the Sea, a collaboration between the Pacific Life Foundation and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.