Temperate to sub-polar latitudes of the north Pacific Ocean
Pop on beaches and rocky shores; feed on rocky reefs and soft bottoms
Order Pinnipedia (seals, sea lions, and relatives), Family Otariidae (fur seals)
Steller sea lions are large predators along rocky shores and beaches of the cold, north Pacific Ocean. Like all seals and sea lions, the steller sea lion feeds in the ocean but mates, gives birth to its pups, and rests on land. Its preferred pupping areas include rocky shores and gravel beaches. Sea lions are not true seals and are instead closely related to fur seals; together, they are known as the “eared seals.” The steller sea lion is the largest sea lion and largest of all the eared seals, with males reaching 2200 pounds (1000 kg) and more than 10 feet (3 m) long.
Steller sea lions are generalist predators that eat a variety of large, marine fishes (Pacific Cod, Pollack, salmons, flatfishes, etc.), along with squids and octopuses. They are known to pester fishers by eating fishes out of their nets, bringing them into dangerous contact with humans. As they are some of the largest animals throughout their range, steller sea lions have few natural predators. However, both killer whales and great white sharks are known to occasionally eat them.
Males of this species form harems of females with which they mate. Only the strongest, most dominant males win the right to mate with females, and many males never successfully mate. Typically, they cannot successfully defend females from other males until they are at least nine years old. Both pupping and mating take place during the same season and in the same locations. Since females continue to nurse their pups throughout the mating season, pups can be in danger around fighting males. As they must protect their harems from intruders, males do not leave their preferred mating sites for the entire breeding season. The season may last up to four months, so males may lose significant weight during that time.
Unlike fur seals and some other sea lions, steller sea lions were never prized for their pelts. Throughout history, they have been hunted from time to time for their meat or for other products, but the commercial hunting of this species never approached that for other seals and sea lions. A more significant threat to steller sea lions has been culling by fishermen, who believe that they eat too many fish. In the middle of the 20th century, this practice reduced numbers of steller sea lions significantly. Fortunately, this species has been fully protected throughout much of its range for several decades, and populations are now increasing. Even with this positive trend, scientists consider steller sea lions to be near threatened with extinction.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.