The stellar sea lion, eumetopias jubatus, is the largest of the eared seals (which also includes the Northern fur seal and the California sea lion). Males measure 10 feet (3 meters) in length and weigh 1,543 pounds (700 kilograms) while females are only 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) long and weigh 661 pounds (300 kilograms). Males have large necks as well as a mane of long, coarse hair that covers their shoulders. Both genders are light-brown in color. Like other eared seals, the stellar sea lion is able to rotate its hind flippers, making it easier for them to walk on land.
The stellar sea lion can be found along the coasts of northern California and Alaska as well as Bering straits, all the way to the coasts of Russia and Japan. When not in the ocean, they can be seen resting, sunbathing, or taking refuge on the beach, a ledge, or rocky shelves. They form large social groups that may contain hundreds of individuals. These haulout locations are on remote islands where access by predators is limited. Due to the low predator count, this species may return to these locations throughout the year.
The diet of a stellar sea lion consists of a variety of fish such as salmon, herring, pollock, cod, and rockfish as well as squid. They do all of their hunting at night and in groups. They are able to catch their prey with minimal effort as they are graceful swimmers. These animals do not chew their food, and will instead swallow it whole. They will not drink water because the food they eat gives them all the water they need to survive. Predators that will eat a stellar sea lion include various sharks as well as killer whales.
Breeding season for the stellar sea lion takes place from May to July. Males will arrive early in order to establish a small bit of territory for themselves. A male will usually not eat throughout the mating season in order to keep its territory (and the females inside it) safe from other males. They may mate with up to 30 females in a single breeding season. Females will arrive in Mid-May to late June and give birth to the pup conceived during the last mating season. The females will be ready mate again 4 days after giving birth. The fertilized egg will not enter the uterus until around mid-October however. This process is called delayed implantation. The mother will then resume foraging for food 9 days after the pup is born, returning periodically to nurse it. While most pups are weaned at around 1 year of age, some mothers will continue to suckle their pups for up to 2 or 3 years. If the pups can survive long enough, then they will live to be 20 to 23 years old (although some females can live to be 30).
The stellar sea lion is an endangered species dropping from over 300,000 individuals to less than 100,000. There are several thoughts as to why they have taken such a bad turn. Accidental capture by fishermen, pollution, and the loss of certain prey due to over fishing, as well as illegal killing and disease are all considered possible causes. They are not protected by law in the United States and their exact cause of decline is being researched. Hopefully, such efforts will help the stellar sea lion come back from its decline and repopulate. After all, such a unique species of seal deserves to live and prosper far into the future.
“Stellar Sea Lion Facts” 5 June 2011
“Stellar Sea Lion” 5 June 2011
“Stellar Sea-Lion” 5 June 2011
“Stellar’s Sea Lion (Eumetopias Jubatus)” 5 June 2011