CALIFORNIA SEA LION: The “goose” that lays the golden “egg”
By Kátia Silva, guide and Marine Biologist at CaboTrek.com
California sea lions are known for their intelligence, playfulness and noisy barking. Their color ranges from chocolate brown in males to a lighter, golden brown in females. Adult females and juveniles are slender-bodied, measure an average of five feet in length and weigh 200 pounds. Adult males are generally larger than females, measuring up to 8 feet in length and weighing an average of 800 pounds. When pups are 4 to 5 months old, they molt their dark brown coats for light brown or silver coats.
This species has broad front flippers and long, narrow snouts. Subadult and adult males have pronounced forehead crests crowned with tufts of blonde or lighter hair. California sea lions have visible ear flaps, and 3 to 5 claws on their hind flippers. Most pups are born in June or July. They nurse for at least 5 to 6 months and sometimes over a year. Mothers recognize pups on crowded rookeries through smell and vocalizations. Pups also learn to recognize the smell and vocalizations of their mothers.
These animals communicate with a range of vocalizations. The most commonly used one is their characteristic bark. Territorial males are the loudest and most continuous callers, and barks are produced constantly during the peak of the breeding season.
A recently published study indicates that the California sea lion is not just a charismatic species, but also an important tourist attraction. The most important species in Mexico's Gulf of California and Baja California Peninsula (GCBP), as named by operators, is the sea lion. Some of the benefits indicated were generation of employment (136 operators and 2,088 direct jobs) and local economic impacts for the community.
The fact that sea lions topped the list of species is important and particularly interesting because their value is often under-appreciated, with even past calls for culling due to perceived negative impacts on commercial fisheries. The situation of reproductive colonies in the Gulf of California demand great concern, which in the last 30 years has dramatically decreased 65%, with only approximately 15,000 individuals remaining. The importance of this species for regional tourism clearly merits further attention and stronger management measures in order to mitigate potential tourism impacts on local populations.