Steller Sea Lions

Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) were once abundant and commonly seen at Point Lobos as recently as the 1950’s. Nowadays, sighting a Steller is noteworthy. Fall and winter is the most likely time for this occasional visitor to appear mixed in among the California sea lions on the Sea Lion Rocks. The two species might be confused with one another because they share many physical characteristics. Both have long front flippers and rotating hind flippers enabling them to “walk” on land. Both have ear flaps and both are noisy, although an experienced listener can distinguish between the two “languages.”  Searching from Sea Lion Point for a Steller requires binoculars in order to see the distinction between the two species. 

As you can see in this photo of both Steller and California sea lions, Stellers are much larger and lighter in color, ranging from light tan to reddish brown. They have a blunt face and a boxy, bear-like head. Adult male Stellers have a bulky build and a very thick neck with longer fur that resembles a lion's mane.  Males can grow to 11 feet in length and weigh almost 2,500 pounds. The smaller females can grow to nine feet and weigh 1,000 pounds.

Adult males establish and defend breeding territories and form harems. There is a small rookery on Ano Nuevo Island, located offshore from Ano Nuevo State Park (about a 2 hour drive north of Point Lobos). This is the southernmost breeding area for the species. The largest concentration of Steller rookeries is in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands.

Since the 1960's, the population of Steller sea lions has declined by at least 50%.  Due to this decline, Steller sea lions are now listed as a federally threatened species.