Steller’s Sea Lion

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Steller’s Sea Lions are the largest of the sea lions and the third largest of the pinnipeds, that class of animals that includes seals, sea lions, and walruses.  Only the Elephant Seal and the Walrus are larger.  An adult male Steller’s Sea Lion may weigh in excess of 2000 pounds — about two or three times the mass of a Coastal Brown Bear.

One of the differences between a sea lion and a seal is that sea lions have external ear flaps whereas seals do not.  Another difference lies in the articulation of their flippers.  Sea lions have flippers that are structured in a way that makes them fairly adept at ambulating out of water.  Seals are far less capable of that.

Steller’s Sea Lions not only differ from other sea lions in size, but in behavior as well.  Most sea lion species bark.  For example, California Sea Lions — another species — often haul out on docks in San Francisco Bay.  They are known to emit barking sounds that are a bit dog-like.  But, Steller’s Sea Lions don’t bark.  Instead, they emit deep growls.

They are endangered.  They used to reside on the Pacific Coast from Alaska to parts of California.  Now, they are missing from big stretches of coast and they are protected where they continue to reside.  We encountered several groups of these sea lions as we cruised down the southern Alaskan coast.  On a few occasions, we encountered them at “haul outs,” rocks that sit above the high tide line and that they favor as resting places.

We were told that all of the sea lions that we observed were bachelor males.  During the breeding season bull sea lions compete with each other to amass harems of females.  The losers of these competitions are relegated to living an abstinent lifestyle.  Most of the losers are younger males, who in time will gain size and who will eventually be able to fight for harems of their own.  Other males in the group are immature.

They are extremely curious.  On one occasion, we rode in a DIB (zodiac) quite close to a haul out.  Several sea lions left their resting spots and swam out to greet us.

They bobbed in the water just a few feet from our boat before diving and swimming away.

It goes without saying that Steller’s Sea Lions are superb swimmers.  That day in the DIB we encountered very rough water.  As the boat lurched abruptly and we bounced around in it, we watched the sea lions watching us.  They seemed to be totally indifferent to the high seas.

If you look closely at the final image you’ll notice that one of the sea lions sports a large number on its flank.  Research biologists are studying these animals in the hope that they can find a means to protect them from further losses and, if possible, help them to increase their numbers.  They’ve branded some of the sea lions as a way of keeping track of them, an action that is analogous to banding birds.

All images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting first three images at ISO 1600.  First image shot at f8 @ 1/500.  Second and third images, f63 @ 1/2000.  Fourth image, ISO 1000, f8 @ 1/250.



4 Replies to “Steller’s Sea Lion”

  1. Tom Munson says:

    The bulls a massive. Great series, Steve.

  2. […] via Steller’s Sea Lion — Sonoran Images […]

  3. Sue says:

    Love these!

  4. tkiiatmindspringcom says:

    Cute from a distance; fierce up close!

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