As many of you know, the wildlife we see on our voyages is one the big highlights of sailing for us. So I’ve decided to try out a few posts exclusively about critters. This is mostly inspired by fellow birder, sailor, and blogger Chris of s/v Take It Easy, who writes informative posts about bird species that she sees, accompanied by her excellent photos. After spending a recent afternoon watching sea lions on a navigation marker outside a town in Alaska (see photo above), I’ve decided to make the subject of my first Critter Post the Steller Sea Lion.
The Steller Sea Lion is one of the largest pinnipeds, smaller only than the walrus and the two species of elephant seal. They have considerable sexual dimorphism – the males have much wider chests and necks than the females and they average about 10 feet in length and 1,200 lbs in weight, while the females come in at a mere 8 feet and 580 lbs. This sea lion is named after the naturalist Georg Steller, who first described them in 1741 on his voyage to Alaska with Vitus Bering. (Steller described many other animals in Alaska and Kamchatka, including a northern relative of the manatee, brought to extinction by over-hunting only 25 years after discovery.) Steller Sea Lions are listed as Near Threatened and in recent decades have experienced large, unexplained population declines over much of their Alaskan range.
From the Sea of Okhotsk in Russia, across the Gulf of Alaska, and south to Central California.
Mostly fish – pollock, mackerel, herring, halibut, cod, rockfish, sculpin. They also sometimes prey on sea otter pups and harbor seals.
Steller Sea Lions don’t have many predators, but orcas and white sharks have preyed on them.
Male Steller Sea Lions establish and defend territories on rookeries, which are usually isolated beaches. They breed with the females that choose their territories, so that, while they breed with multiple females, it’s not really considered a harem. The males do not eat during the breeding season. After birth, the pups remain with their mothers for as long as four years.