Californian Sea Lion - Zalophus californianus

Californian Sea Lion

  Sea ​​lions

Californian Sea Lion - Zalophus californianus

Identity card

Californian Sea Lion

Scientific name:
Zalophus californianus
Year of description:
Lesson, 1828
IUCN Status:
Not Evaluated

It lives on the Western coast of America, in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean.


It is spread out in the open sea, on the rocky coasts of the Pacific side of the United States, in the Galapagos Islands


It measures between 2 and 2.5 metres long and weighs between 110 and 250 kg.


Its diet is made up of fish and molluscs. Its vibrissae, or whiskers, play an important role in the search for food.

Conservation program:

Nausicaá is involved in the European conservation programme - EEP for the sea lion (Zalophus californianus).

Californian Sea Lion - Zalophus californianus

At Nausicaá, the sea-lions come from other European zoo parks where they were born.

Sea-lions, also known as the California sea-lion, are marine mammals and so have to come up to the surface frequently to breathe.

Sea-lions can live to over 15 years. At
Nausicaá, two females, Kai and Moana, joined the group of sea lions in 2021.

Did you know?

Where is the animal to be found?

The sea-lion, also known as the California sea-lion, is found in open water and on rocky coasts on the Pacific seaboard of the USA and also in the Galapagos Islands. It is present in San Francisco Bay. It is not found in the extreme polar regions and is mostly present in the intertropical zone.

How can it be recognised?

A sea lion is a sea lion, a pinniped like walruses and seals.

Sea lions can be distinguished from seals by the presence of external ears and by their quadrupedal gait, which is linked to the use of their front flippers. When they swim, their front flippers enable them to propel themselves through the water. In the water, they use their rear flippers as paddles. The seal, on the other hand, has no external ears and crawls along the ground.

They measure between 2 and 2.50 metres and weigh between 110 and 250 kg.

Its diet consists of fish and molluscs. Its vibrissae or whiskers play an important role in searching for food and capturing prey.

Does a sea lion moult?

Sea lions moult once a year towards the end of summer. It sheds the previous year's hair, which changes colour, dies and falls out naturally.

Not all hairs fall out at the same time! In fact, there are differences in colour in the sea lion's coat, with the moult areas showing a new, darker coat than the one that will soon fall out, which is lighter.

As the sea lion only moults once a year, if it loses hair during the year or if a vet has to shave an area of the body, the hair will only grow back at moulting time.

This natural phenomenon is linked to the animal's natural life cycle and hormonal cycle.

Molting requires a lot of energy. Moreover, the areas of the animal's body that are in the moulting phase are warm. To compensate for this calorie loss at this time of year, the diet of the sea lions at Nausicaá is adapted by feeding them fish that are richer in fat, to prevent them from losing weight.

What is distinctive about it?

Sea-lions reach sexual maturity at around 4 or 5 years' old. The male has a harem that may comprise up to twenty females.

Sea lions bark... to show others who is the leader, to communicate with each other or to warn others of danger.

Why do they sometimes raise a flipper out of the water?

This is known as thermoregulation. When they get too hot, sea lions dissipate heat through their flippers. Through this phenomenon, they can adapt their body temperature to the temperature of the water and the ambient air.

What is their life expectancy?

In the wild, sea lions live up to 15 years. In a centre like Nausicaá, their life expectancy can be as much as 25 years.

At Nausicaa, the temperature of the tanks varies from 18° to 20°C. Sea lions prefer cold water to warm water, so they have no problem tolerating winter temperatures.

Are sea lions playful?

All day long, sea lions chase each other and grab each other by biting. The handlers stimulate and reward them with toys that they hide in their surroundings.

Medical training of sea lions

What does the work of the handlers at Nausicaá involve?

The handlers look after the physical and mental development of the sea lions by offering them various activities throughout the day. For their health, they practice medical training which consists of getting them to accept to be handled in order to brush their teeth, listen to their heartbeat, treat small wounds, or even have an X-ray or an ultrasound.

Other work sessions involve getting them to do physical exercise, by replicating natural behaviours such as jumping.

Lastly, the handlers stimulate their mental abilities by teaching them to recognise letters and geometric shapes.

Where can I find it at Nausicaá?


Californian Sea Lion - Zalophus californianus

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