Sea lions, often friendly, can turn hostile

Photo by Joseph B. TreasterSteven Elenberg, (standing), studying Galapagos sea lion, with other University of Miami students, Griffin Sher and Carolina Xavier

Some were nice to me, others barked and yelled

To me, Galapagos sea lions are among the most bizarre creatures on Earth. Their unpredictable tempers, sounds and overall activities leave experts “curious” according to Diego Páez, a professor and researcher at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito on the island of San Cristobal. San Cristobal is one of the dozen or so main islands in the Galapagos Archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

The facts on Galapagos sea lions:

Experts say there are about 50,000 sea lions in the Galapagos with little change in the population for decades. There are approximately 8,000 fur seals in the Galapagos that only live on the islands of Fernandina and Isabela. They are a sub species of Sea Lions and their main difference is their shorter flippers.

Male sea lions are much bigger than the females. They grow to up to 500 pounds. Females are seldom heavier than 170 pounds. The life expectancy of male Galapagos sea lions is 16 to 17 years, females 20.  The female sea lion’s head is flat whereas the male head has a noticeable bump. This bump consists of bone and muscle. Sharks and killer whales are the biggest danger for sea lions. Their young are sometimes snatched up by  Galapagos hawks.

I watched two groups of more than 30 sea lions on San Cristobal Island. The colony on San Cristobal’s Playa Mann was very welcoming to me and did not seem to be disturbed by my presence. The colony on Shipwreck Bay started barking, yelling, and chasing me when I entered their territory.

On land, Galapagos sea lions are extraordinarily territorial and can coexist with people. They have minimal tolerance for people invading their personal space, especially around their cubs. “If a human ever feels threatened, they can resort to clapping their hands above their heads,” said Joel Bovin of Stockholm, Sweden who lived on San Cristobal for weeks working in a community service program and often spent time with sea lions. Jaime Chavez, a professor and researcher at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in San Cristobal said he had never heard of a sea lion killing a person.

On the island of Santa Cruz, the sea lions seem to enjoy people because “humans give them scraps and the inedible parts of the fish” said Washington Paredes, a National Park guide and the newly elected vice mayor of Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz. People and sea lions aren’t friends; they coexist.

Steven Elenberg

Sea lions live in colonies of 10 to 30 females with only one alpha male. Alpha males protect their colonies. They mate with the women and protect their colonies for four to six weeks. During the mating season, males challenge other males over territory and colonies.

Death and injury often occur during these battles for territory. The winner becomes the new head of the colony. The loser of the battle goes to “Loser Island,” Paredes said. He said there are several islands in the Galapagos where defeated sea lions go and all are referred to as Loser Island.

I have seen several sea lion fights. The battles are loud and the sea lions mainly use their teeth as their weapons. I have not seen any deaths or severe injuries.

While on Loser Island, the males rest and recover. These “losers stay on this island anywhere between six months to a year and during that time, they fish and get strong” said Paredes. #


More like this: Galapagos 2014

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8 responses to “Sea lions, often friendly, can turn hostile”

  1. Miriam Rosen says:

    Great article. I loved hearing about the sea lions from first-hand experience.

  2. Nick S says:

    Love this article. Who would have thought sea lions were such cheeky buggers.

  3. Marc Harari says:

    The future looks bright for this articulate writer. Remember the name, Steven Elenberg!

  4. Sasha says:

    Very informative and well written!

  5. William K says:

    Good read

  6. Ben says:

    Who knew sea lions were so fascinating? Great read Steven!

  7. Robert E says:

    wow what a fascinating and well written article, what an articulate author.

  8. Lisa D says:

    Great article! Lots of interesting facts and very captivating