The California sea lion: the California king of the sea
100 - 300 kg
2 - 2,5 meter
35 km/h
Swimming speed
15 minutes
Holding their breath
20 - 25 years
Speaker icoon
How I sound

About the California sea lion

Latin name: Zalophus californianus

In the Dolfinarium you will meet two types of sea lions: the California sea lion and the Steller sea lion. The California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) is by far the best-known sea lion species, known for its intelligence and playfulness.

Rob, seal, sea lion?

What’s up? It’s actually quite simple: rob is just another name for seal. Seals and sea lions are both called “pinnipeds,” meaning they are mammals with fins instead of legs. But the fins of seals are not the same as those of sea lions. If you would see them walking side by side, you immediately see the difference: the sea lion can ‘walk’ on its front fins, while seals are more bumpy.

Are you lucky enough to spot an animal up close and unsure whether it is a sea lion or seal? Then find the ears. See those on the outside? Then you face a sea lion. No ears in sight? Then it’s a seal!

California sea lions in the wild

In the wild, California sea lions are found along the western coast of North America. They can be found in California – from which they owe their name – but their habitat is spread further: from Mexico to Alaska. They live in tropical and temperate waters in rocky coastal areas, islands and on beaches. You can also often find them on piers, buoys and oil platforms.

Sea lions are predators and therefore eat other animals. These all come from the sea. Their diet consists of more than fifty species of fish and squid. They themselves are on the menu of orcas and large shark species.

California sea lions often live in large colonies of thousands of animals. Can you count that far? Within this are separate groups with their own hierarchy. Such a group consists of a dominant male and up to thirty females and is also called a harem. The dominant male is in charge of his harem and fights with invading males to defend his females and territory. Pretty sweet of him, actually.

Males are harem bosses until a stronger male takes over the group. They therefore regularly change groups. The females in a group often stay together for years.

The mating season is from May to July. They have delayed implantation, which means that the fertilized egg does not develop until about three months after mating. California sea lions have a gestation period of about eight months. They are therefore slightly less pregnant than humans.

The females in a harem help each other in raising and defending the young. A newborn puppy continues to drink milk with its mother for about a year, but is also raised by a lot of aunts! Funny right? Mother and young can always find each other in such a huge colony by means of sound and smell. Good thing, too!


The body of the California sea lion is well adapted to life on land and in the water. They have a streamlined body that allows them to glide smoothly through the water. They have strong fins that allow them to swim quickly, their hind fins have small nails at the end. And they can even climb rocks and climb stairs with their fins! Do you want to see them swimming, climbing and walking for yourself? Then come and see the presentation Slim Werk (Smart Work).

Sea lions also have very sensitive whiskers. This allows them to feel the vibrations in the water that fish leave behind, so they can hunt prey even in murky water! They then catch them with their 34 to 38 sharp, brown to black teeth.


Fortunately, the California sea lion is not endangered in the wild (IUCN red list status: Least Concern). However, many sea lions, like other sea creatures, are at risk from various factors such as plastic waste, climate change and commercial fishing.

The more we learn about the sea lion, the better we can protect it in nature. The Dolfinarium contributes to this through scientific research and education.

You don’t have to go to California to spot the California sea lion in real life. You can find them here in the Dolfinarium.

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