You may recall when we covered the Harbour Seal a couple of months ago? This week’s Wildlife Wednesday is a distant relative of the Harbour seal and a king among the BC coast animals, the Stellar Sea Lion.
Though they may look similar to Harbour Seals to excited guests seeing them for the first time on Spirit of the West tours, Stellar Sea Lions actually differ in a few very important characteristics. Unlike the smaller Harbour Seals, Stellar Sea Lions are “pinnipeds” (meaning “feather footed”) and can turn their hind flippers forward. This gives them a bony structure similar to the legs of land animals, which allows them to support all of their body weight while walking making them much quicker and graceful at maneuvering on land than their cousins. In addition, while Harbour Seals are earless, these Sea Lions have visible external ear flaps, which they can close in order to keep water out while swimming.
Named for the mane of coarse hair surrounding the faces of males, Stellar Sea Lions are huge, with males weighing in at up to 1500 lbs and females about a third of that! If you think that seems a little disproportionate, you would be right… many females are actually crushed during…*erm*…certain activities during mating season, due to the vast difference in size.
During breeding season Stellar Seal Lions gather in massive, dense colonies in order to seek safety and protection from land predators. These colonies are often so busy that, while protected from harmful enemies, many pups are actually trampled in the flurry of activity happening in the “Rookery” (breeding land). Rookeries are indeed busy places, with males working hard to establish and maintain beach territory in hopes of attracting females – a feat that make take 9 or 10 years to produce any results! In their efforts to defend their stake of land, males will often go a month or more at a time without eating. Though their efforts may seem drastic, strong males usually attract a harem of anywhere from 3 to 20 females – with such a single-track mind, it’s no wonder that these colonies build so quickly!
Here at Spirit of the West, we boast some pretty spectacular views of the wildlife in our area, so join us on a tour! In the meantime, here’s a pretty amusing video of a Stellar Sea Lion battling it out with some Orcas! http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Steller_Sea_Lion#p008wh4n