California Sea Lion
Zalophus californianus

Physical Description

  • Males are often chocolate brown, females a golden brown
  • Females grow to 220 pounds and 6 feet long
  • Males grow to 7-8 feet long and can weigh 850 pounds
  • 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


  • 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


  • 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

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.

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