Often confused with seals, sea lions have their own distinct intelligent identity that makes them the favored ones to be trained by the U.S. Navy's Marine Mammal Program based in San Diego to detain and help scuba divers. They are mammals that live in the oceans and roam the land close to it. In their natural habitat, they live up to 10-15 years. However, in captivity, aided by a healthy environment, they can live up to 25-35 years. They are not very aggressive towards humans, and although there have been instances of attacks, they are few and far between. Most species are readily trainable and widely-used for entertainment as well as rescue operations.
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Otariidae
Sea lions can be easily distinguished from other members of their order as they have external ear flaps and long front flippers that let them walk easily on land. Depending on their type, they weigh about a ton and are 2.4 to 2.8 meters in size. They have slightly-elongated faces with little whiskers on both sides close to their nostrils. Their 'cute' appearance has made them a popular attraction in aquariums and zoos worldwide. However, they are vicious carnivores, and strangely, evolutionarily related to wolves and bears. They hunt fish, squid, octopi, and smaller pennipids (seals and smaller sea lions) using their conical-shaped canine teeth. Although a part of oceanic life, they can only stay underwater for 10-15 minutes at a stretch.
They cannot survive far from the ocean. As a result, they can be found on coastlines of virtually every ocean except the North Atlantic. This includes the tropics as well as subpolar waters near both poles. For instance, the largest type, the Steller, is found on either side of the Bering strait. As apex predators, sea lions follow their prey and choose the most fertile oceanic regions to colonize. These include the Pacific coast of both American continents and Polynesia. Due to the large size of their colonies, they need suitably large and plain (sandy or rocky) shores to colonize.
Habitat Distribution According to Types
Primarily, there are seven known species that have been identified. They belong to the seven genera of modern pinnipeds.
Of the seven types in existence, the Australian sea lion has a different breeding cycle. The rest usually start their breeding season in May. The males are very territorial in nature during this period. Both males and females are capable of reproduction at about five years of age, and the female can bear up to one pup every year. Pups weigh between 13-15 pounds at birth. Females have a 10-12 month gestation period. Upon birth, the females will nurse the young pups for a period of 4-12 months. Most pups are known to follow their mothers for several years. They are recognized by their mothers by a keen sense of individualistic smell.
The habitat and population of these inquisitive, playful, attractive, and endearing creatures is under attack from the onslaught of commercial fishing and to make way for sea resorts and other allied properties.