The Galapagos Sea Lion is one of the top stars of the show! They are irresistibly cute, especially sea lion pups. They pose for photos in the most amusing places. And they are super friendly and inquisitive, often coming right up to meet tourists face to face. On land you'll find sea lions napping the day away or sun bathing. In the sea they'll swim playful rings around surprised snorkelers. Without a doubt the Galapagos sea lion will be an unforgettable part of your Galapagos experience!
Read on to learn more about the Galapagos Sea Lion. Where and when can you see them? How to recognise them? Plus heaps of other fun Galapagos sea lion facts.
The Galapagos Sea Lion is an ENDEMIC SPECIES
Conservation Status: Endangered
Scientific Name: Zalophus wollebaeki
Galapagos Sea Lions are the most common marine mammal at the islands, with a population size around 50,000. So they are one of the easiest species to tick off your list. Visitors come across them on all or most tour days, and at different sites across the archipelago.
Keep an eye out for them swimming in the shallows or sleeping on beaches. They also love to laze around on public benches or docks. Mostly sea lions are blissfully unaware of the snapping cameras, or perhaps they'll blink open one eye out of curiosity. So visitors don't need to be shy about taking photos.
Sea lions are everywhere at Galapagos! They are likely to be spotted on or around the shorelines of most islands. To see large Galapagos sea lion colonies we recommend the following visitor sites: Isla Lobos (San Cristobal), Puerto Villamil Harbor (Isabela), Gardener Bay (Española), South Plaza, North Seymour, Rabida & Bartolome.
Sea lions live at the Galapagos islands all year round. To see cute Galapagos sea lion pups in the nurseries, try visiting between July and November.
Snorkeling with sea lions is a top Galapagos bucket list highlight. Playful sea lions will swim around you doing corkscrew turns, and coming right up to your mask. Don't be afraid, just enjoy this amazing experience, and take some underwater snaps if you can. Do remember to respect their space, let them come to you and do their thing.
There are many Galapagos snorkel sites where you can share the water with sea lions. Just get your snorkel gear ready, and ask your guide where he/she most recommend during your trip.
Contact us for a FREE GALAPAGOS VACATION QUOTE with no obligations, or for more information to plan your dream Galapagos trip. Either a Galapagos cruise or Land Tour are ideal to spot Galapagos sea lions.
In appearance, adult sealions have brown/grey fur, while newborn pups are more of a chestnut brown color. They have a narrow muzzle and whiskered nose. Their powerful black flippers make them strong and agile swimmers.
Galapagos sealions are slightly smaller than their Californian cousins. Males (bulls) are big and muscular, weighing 550 pounds on average. Females are up to four times smaller in size than males.
There are two types of sealion colony at Galapagos. Female cows live in a harem colony, controlled by one dominant male bull. All other male sea lions live together in bachelor colonies, consisting of old retired males and young wannabe adolescents.
Sea lion mating season runs from May to January each year, although it can differ slightly between different islands. While a dominant male can enjoy breeding with his harem, it is also a stressful time for him. There are many rival males who would love to take his place, and some who are willing to fight him for it. So he needs to be on constant guard duty, patrolling the waters of his territory. If other bulls do come near he needs to scare them away, or in worst case fight them. Sea lion fights are very aggressive, with pushing, barging, neck-biting, and dramatic water chases. This is a full time job, to the extent that the dominant male doesn't even have time to eat. All of his physical exertion results in rapid weight and muscle loss, so he'll likely lose control of his territory after little more than a week or two.
When cows give birth a single pup is born. They spend their first week bonding closely with mom, developing a unique call to distinguish themselves from other pups of the nursery group. The mother then hunts for food by day, and the pup suckles milk in the evenings. Pups are dependent on their mothers for the first year of their life, although they do also learn to hunt and feed before then.
What does a Galapagos sea lion eat? They love to dine on sardines, squid and even large tuna fish which they hunt for in packs. Their streamlined bodies make them extremely efficient hunters. They also have an important adaptation that helps them on deep dives. They have evolved a lower metabolic rate than other sea lion species. This gives them ability to dive to deeper depths and for longer periods of time (up to 10 minutes per dive).
At Galapagos the hunter also becomes the hunted. The main sealion predators are Orcas and Sharks.
The Galapagos sealion is listed by the IUCN red list as Endangered. This is often surprising for visitors who see them in large numbers right across the archipelago.
Their biggest threat is the El Niño weather phenomenon. El niño occurs every decade or so, affecting the whole coastline of South America. It causes a small rise in sea temperatures, which in turn reduces the level of important nutrients found in the ocean. Fewer algae, plankton and nutrients means fewer fish, which also means hungry sea lions. Lack of food disrupts Galapagos sea lion breeding, and causes a high infant pup mortality rate. It can take many years for a sea lion population to recover again.
Human beharior is also a risk. Plastic waste in the ocean is easily mistaken for squid, and often kills sealions once ingested. Fortunately the Galapagos islands are now plastic-free for tourists. Sea lions can also become caught in fishing nets, as was the case for a Galapagos sea lion named Panchita. Poor Panchita was rescued but suffered severe cuts. She became famous during her recovery, pampered at a luxury Galapagos hotel. In a fittingly happy ending Panchita made a full recovery, and has since given birth to pups.
There are no active conservation projects underway to specifically protect Galapagos sea lions. But within the Galapagos Marine Reserve they are a protected species, and their population size is monitored.
• Although they may seem lazy, a Galapagos Sea Lion can actually run faster than humans, even over rocky terrain. This is possible thanks to their special pelvic girdle which allows them to gallop.
• The Galapagos Sea Lion is an endemic species. They were originally thought to be Californian Sea Lions, but recent DNA tests prove that they are their own unique species, separated from their Californian cousins over 2 million years ago.
• Galapagos Sea lions are often confused with the Galapagos Fur Seal, so how can you tell them apart? Firstly, the fur seal coat is much thicker. Secondly, Fur Seals have bulgier eyes and more protuding ears. Finally, Fur Seals tend to be smaller in size, and broader and shorter heads. The colonies of each species rarely overlap, to avoid competition for food, which can make identification a little easier.
• Even though these amazing creatures are ridiculously cute, and often come right up to visitors, it is really important not to touch them. If humans pass their smell onto a Sea Lion pup then it can cause the mother to reject them, which means the pup will perish. Of course it is also for your own safety – Sea Lions are usually friendly, but they are still wild and unpredictable animals.
If you enjoyed this blog, check out more information about other Galapagos Animal Species.
In conclusion, the Galapagos sea lion is one of the top highlights for many visitors. They are literally everywhere at Galapagos, but few people ever get bored of them. Sea lions are by nature wonderfully social and inquisitive creatures, and love coming up to meet tourists. So by the end of your vacation you'll have more than enough cute sealion snaps to make Facebook friends green with envy!