Skip to main content
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, North American Mammals

place holder

  Carnivora · Otariidae · Zalophus californianus

Search the Archive
 • Species Name
 • Family Tree
 • Conservaton Status
 • Skulls
 • Bones and Teeth
Field Guide
 • Map Search
   Including search by
     • Location
     • Ecoregion
     • Species
     • National Park
 • About Maps
dotted line
   Teacher Resources
   About the Site
dotted line
Smithsonian Institution
Copyright Notice
Privacy Notice

Zalophus californianus

California Sea Lion

Order: Carnivora
Family: Otariidae

Image of Zalophus californianus
Zalophus californianus - male on left, lighter, smaller female and pup on right
Click to enlarge. (53 kb)

Conservation Status: Least Concern.

California sea lions are the best-known eared seals. All seals can hear, but earless seals (in the family Phocidae) have internal ears. The eared seals (sea lions and fur seals, in the family Otariidae) have small external ears. They also can pull their rear flippers up under their bodies and use to them move around on land, which phocids cannot do. California sea lions spend most of their time in coastal waters, and eat fish. Adult males migrate northward for the winter and return to island beaches off the California and Mexican coastlines for the May—July breeding season. They loudly defend patches of territory, on land or in the shallows, fasting for 4—6 weeks while they are on patrol. About a month after pupping (giving birth), females are ready to mate with the males who have been waiting impatiently. Ninety percent of the young are born in June. They are born on land and nurse for a year or more.

Also known as:
Galapagos Sea Lion

Sexual Dimorphism:
Males are about four times larger than females.

Average: 2.1 m males; 1.6 m females
Range: 2-2.5 m males; 1.6-1.8 m females

Average: 375 kg males; 94 kg females
Range: 350-400 kg males; 90-120 kg females


In Bory de Saint-Vincet (ed.), Dictionnaire Classique d'Histoire Naturelle,  Paris, 13:420.


Mammal Species of the World (opens in a new window).

Distribution of Zalophus californianus

Image of Zalophus californianus
Click to enlarge. (80kb)

Skull of Zalophus californianus
Click to enlarge. (21kb)