do sea lions eat birds

Protected Status MMPA Protected Throughout Its Range

Adult California sea lion. Credit: NOAA Fisheries

“Eared seals,” or California sea lions, are indigenous to North America’s west coast. They inhabit beaches, docks, buoys, jetties, and coastal waters. They are frequently found in aquariums and zoos and are intelligent and easily trained. California sea lions are lively, perceptive, and quite talkative—they have a dog-like bark to their voice.

They are covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, just like all other marine mammals. Since the MMPA’s protections were implemented, at least, their population has been growing.

Through partnerships, outreach, integrated science, cooperative management, and outreach, NOAA Fisheries contributes to the conservation of the California sea lion. When California sea lions are in danger—such as when they become stranded or entangled in nets—our scientists investigate, safeguard, and save them using cutting-edge methods. Through management based on solid science, public input, and public outreach, our work helps reduce harm caused by human activities (such as fishing and pollution).

NOAA Fisheries estimates population size for the U. S. stock of California sea lions in our stock assessment report. Between 1975 and 2014, the highest rate of population growth in the United S. stock of California sea lions was 7 percent per year.

Juveniles and adult females have slim bodies and range in color from tan to blonde. Males reach adulthood at a larger size than females and are typically dark brown to black in color. At birth, puppies are dark brown and weigh roughly 16 pounds. Puppies shed their dark brown coats for light brown or silver coats between the ages of 4 and 5 months.

The broad front flippers and long, narrow snouts of California sea lions Male subadults and adults have prominent forehead crests topped with tufts of lighter-colored or blonde hair. The hind flippers of California sea lions have three to five claws, and their ear flaps are visible.

California sea lions feed mainly offshore in coastal areas. They consume a wide range of prey found in upwelling areas, including sardines, rockfish, mackerel, anchovies, and squid. They might also steal fish from sport fishing lines, commercial fishing gear, and fish passageways at dams and rivers.

While California sea lions are gregarious both on land and in the water, during mating season the males fight other females to defend their pups, and the females aggressively defend their territories. California sea lions are extremely wary of humans when they are on breeding islands; if they see or smell someone, they will dive into the water.

Male California sea lions greet other males and females by barking, just like dogs do. Puppies and females use specific vocalizations to communicate with each other. Every puppy and female can be recognized by their distinct smell. A female pup’s vocalizations can help her find her among hundreds of others. She smells her dog when she finds it as a last resort.

A common behavior known as “rafting” can give the impression that a sea lion is entangled in a net. A sea lion on a raft rests and adjusts its body temperature by holding its flippers above the water for extended periods of time while remaining still. The seal is most likely rafting if you are unable to spot a buoy or any net gear.

The eastern North Pacific Ocean’s shallow waters are home to California sea lions. Their preferred locations for hauling out and breeding are rocky coves or sandy beaches. They also haul out on marina docks, jetties, and buoys along the West Coast. From southeast Alaska to the Pacific coast of central Mexico, California sea lions can be found. Their main breeding range is from central Mexico to the Channel Islands in southern California. Based on the location of important rookeries and the international border, NOAA Fisheries divides the California sea lion population into three stocks: the United States, western Baja California, and the Gulf of California. The U. S. stock waters ranges from the U. S. /Mexico border to Canada. While females and pups remain close to the breeding colonies until the pups are weaned, male California sea lions typically migrate during the winter to feeding areas off California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Canada, and southeast Alaska. Some females are observed to travel as far north as Washington and Oregon during warm water (El Niño) years, most likely in pursuit of prey.

Because they are “polygamous,” males can have up to 14 females in their breeding territories. They defend their territories with aggressive physical displays and vocalization. Sea lions attain sexual maturity at the age of 4 to 5 but do not reach social maturity until much later in life; they start marking territories at the age of 9 to 12. The majority of pups are born in May through June, with the breeding season lasting from late June to early August. After giving birth, females are ready to mate again three to four weeks later.

California sea lions separate their nursing and feeding activities. When a mother sea lion travels to feeding areas at sea, she leaves her pup on land after caring for it for one to two days. She feeds for two to five days before going back to nursing. During the mothers absence, the pup doesn’t eat. Until their pups are weaned, females maintain a pattern of spending several days at sea and then spending several days nursing ashore. This takes almost a year. Please leave a puppy alone if you see one on the beach. Call a member of the local marine mammal stranding network if it appears to be in distress.

Catching them in fishing gear is one of the biggest dangers facing California sea lions. They can get caught in a variety of gear, such as gillnets, pots, and traps. Once entangled, they may drag and swim for extended periods of time with the gear attached, which could eventually lead to exhaustion, impaired feeding, or serious injury that could result in decreased reproductive success or even death.

Under the right conditions, algae can grow out of control. Toxins released by certain algae “blooms” have the potential to kill fish, mammals, birds, and in severe situations, sicken or even kill humans. Because California sea lions are top predators, these toxins can accumulate in their bodies and cause domoic acid poisoning, which can cause seizures or even death.

Although it is simple to see California sea lions in the wild, this increases their risk of suffering injuries or even dying from humans. Feeding them, or attempting to feed them, is destructive and prohibited since it alters their innate behaviors and reduces their aversion to humans and objects. They adapt their natural hunting habits, such as taking bait straight off fishing gear, as they come to associate humans with an easy meal. Sometimes they become the target of angry fishermen and boaters taking revenge (like shooting).

The existence of people and boats may also annoy or bother them. Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that could cause them harm or cause their behavior to change is considered harassment, and it is prohibited. For both your own safety and the safety of California sea lions, always remember to share the shore.

Kingdom Animalia Phylum Chordata Class Mammalia Order Carnivora Family Otariidae Genus Zalophus Species californianus

All California sea lions are protected under the MMPA. Our work supports protection and conservation by:

  • Reducing interactions with commercial fishing gear
  • Minimizing harassment and illegal feeding
  • Responding to dead, injured, or entangled sea lions
  • Encouraging responsible viewing of wild sea lions
  • reducing the impact of human activity in general and vessel disturbance in particular

Our study has revealed previously unknown details about the biology, behavior, and ecology of California sea lions and has improved our understanding of the difficulties they face. Since more sea lions come into contact with people and other protected resources as their population recovers, it is particularly crucial for conservation and management.

Our research includes:

  • evaluating birth rates, survival, and abundance and how they vary over time as the population increases
  • Keeping an eye on eating patterns and the ecology of foraging to comprehend sea lions’ function in the offshore and coastal marine ecosystems under various environmental circumstances
  • describing the ecology of disease, human causes of death, and the impact they have on population health

In general, sea lions will hunt near the coast as long as there is enough food to be found. They will, nevertheless, relocate as necessary to locate sufficient food for survival. However, when they venture into deeper water away from the coast, they raise their risk of being eaten by whales and killer sharks.

A sea lion will swallow food without chewing it up when it comes into its mouth. Sea Lions do have some sharp teeth though. They break off large chunks of prey with them that are too big for them to swallow. After that, they’ll just eat bits of it until they’re gone. Additionally, in order to eat the contents of clam shells, they will break them with their back teeth.

Because they are carnivores, sea lions enjoy eating meat. Fish is Sea Lions’ primary food source, and they eat a lot of it! They will consume herring, mackerel, pompano, salmon, and capelin, among other varieties. Depending on where they live determines what they can access.

Crabs and clams are among the other food sources that sea lions consume. A sea lion’s diet is frequently determined by the season and the availability of food sources. They can be dangerous to commercial fishermen because they do eat a lot of fish. Sea Lions must resort to these alternative food sources if fishermen are employing cutting-edge equipment to catch fish if they are to survive.

They also like eating squid, which is frequently discovered in the water. Because they don’t really care what they eat as long as it’s plentiful and contains meat, they can thrive in the water. Nonetheless, they may search for food for several hours each day. A sea lion will eat more food every day in proportion to its size.

How You Can Help

Be responsible when viewing marine life in the wild. Keep a safe distance of at least 50 yards between you and all seals and sea lions, and don’t spend more than 30 minutes observing.


Do seals eat sea birds?

What do they eat? Seals are carnivorous and dive underwater to hunt for fish, crustaceans, seabirds, and other marine animals.

Do sea lions eat other animals?

All sea lions are carnivores, eating fish, squid, crabs, and clams. Steller sea lions also eat seals.

What do sea lions eat most?

Behavior and Diet California sea lions feed mainly offshore in coastal areas. They eat a variety of prey—such as squid, anchovies, mackerel, rockfish, and sardines—found in upwelling areas. They also may take fish from commercial fishing gear, sport fishing lines, and fish passage facilities at dams and rivers.