MARINE MAMMALS – SEA LIONS
By Amelia Meyer
Sea lions are Pinnipeds that are part of the Otariidae family (also known as the eared seals). They are related to walruses and seals, but have unique characteristics; namely, short, coarse fur, bulky, large bodies and relatively large prey, in comparison with other seals. There are seven different sea lion species, namely:
1.Australian Sea Lion
2.California Sea Lion
3.Galapagos Sea Lion
4.Japanese Sea Lion (now extinct)
5.New Zealand Sea Lion
6.South American Sea Lion
7.Steller Sea Lion
While these animals are fairly prolific along coastlines all over the world, there continues to be little known about them.
Their distribution ranges from icy subarctic waters to the far warmer tropical oceans. The only part of the world in which they are not found is along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. They stay close to the land so that they are able to flee to either the shore or the ocean, depending on the threat facing them. For instance, if there is an Orca in the ocean, they will quickly leave the water and head for the safety of land. If humans threaten them on land, they can retreat to the safety of the water.
Sea lions have ears that resemble flaps, which point downwards to prevent them from being filled with water.
Their front two flippers are long, while the rear two are shorter. All four flippers are extremely powerful, enabling the sea lion to swim at great speeds as well as to be able to walk on land. The front flippers are even able to pick objects up so that the inquisitive sea lion can examine these items. Sea lions can weigh anything between a few hundred kilograms and a ton, depending on their species, age and gender. A layer of blubber insulates the body and, therefore, its thickness depends on the habitat. The colder the local climate, the thicker the blubber needs to be. The more blubber required, the more the animal needs to eat in order to build and maintain it.
Their whiskers are an integral part of their negotiation of the water and finding prey. Each whisker has a nerve ending, making it very sensitive to touch.
Sexual maturity is reached at about three years of age in males (although formal mating will only begin at around eight years old, when they are strong enough to compete against other males for the female’s attention) and four years in females. She will discern the strongest male and allow him to mate with her so that their young are given a fighting chance of survival. Males frequently have a harem of about 10 to 15 females with which he mates. The male sea lion has to protect these females as well as their young.