Guess who’s back, back again? It’s not Slim Shady, but it is the largest species of Sea Lions in the world!! In the San Juan Islands there is an over-wintering population of Steller’s Sea Lions, aka Northern Sea Lions, aka Eumetopias jubatus. These sea lions inhabit the northern Pacific Rim Coast from Northern California to Northern Japan and are a unique feature to our area. They went through a steep decline in the ‘80s and 90’s for unknown reasons, but now their population seems to have stabilized and is actually growing in Northern California and surrounding areas. We still don’t know too much about these enormous creatures. Males are around on average 10 ft. (~3 m) long and weigh 1500 lbs. (~700 kg)!  Females as in many sea lion species are much smaller usually around 3 times smaller. These measurements are around the size of a Grizzly Bear and if you sea one of these Sea Lions they look and sound a lot like their furry compatriots that prefer to stay terrestrial. Bears actual are Sea Lions closest Terrestrial mammal relative which is pretty cool to think about as you see these toasted marshmallow fluff-balls bare their teeth and growl at each other when favorite rock spaces are argued over.

Male Steller's Sea Lion

Male Steller's Sea Lion lounges in his fave spot

During the summer these Sea Lions are gone though. They for some reason prefer large sandy beaches to mate on and sometimes swim all the way up to Alaska to find the best ones. That migration and breeding season takes a toll on these big pinnipeds so they spend most of their winters here eating tons and resting as well. So they have just started to trickle back down here and will start filling Whale Rocks, Green Point and other such places until May comes again and they start their journeys all over again.  Even though they are only a temporary resident here these Sea Lions play an important role in the ecosystem. Their waste in the form of poop and leftover fish that ends up on the rocks they sleep on gets washed back into the sea and supports the Bull Kelp Forests that are the bottom of the food chain in the area. These giant animals also are a major prey source for our Transient Killer Whales that feed on marine mammals! Keep Checking in for more changes to come! It’s pretty amazing to see how the ecosystem members shift and change as the seasons so here.

 

Naturalist Erick

M/V Seahawk

San Juan Outfitters