by George Bailey,
parking for Shell Beach on The Sea Ranch, then take the
public access trail and stay to the right. As you
reach the cliffs you will come upon families of California
Sea Lions who favor Shell Beach and the adjoining sea caves.
April and early May is the mating season for the sea lions and one
will find Shell Beach packed with 50 or more of the mammals
and their pups.
This same California
Sea Lion is found all along the Pacific coast. They
are considered non-migratory because there is no mass
movement from summer to winter grounds, although individuals
or small groups may travel hundreds of miles in search of
food. Their diet consists mainly of bottom fish such
as skate, small sharks, squid and various species of rock
fish. Sea Lions may descend in search of food to a
depth of 80 to 100 fathoms, and normally remain submerged no
longer then four or five minutes.
If provoked the
California Sea Lion would not deliberately attack a human;
however, descending into the midst of a harem during mating
season would be very foolish.
Sea Lion pups are about
four feet long at birth and weigh from 40 to 50 pounds.
They are slate gray in color for about six months, turn dark
brown until approximately two years of age, then they begin
to assume the lighter tan color of the adult. They
remain with their mothers well over a year and grow rapidly,
averaging about six feet long at the end of their fist year.
The pups continue to grow, perhaps all of their lives,
but the growth rate decreases each year. Mature cows
are identifiable by their size and long slender shape.
They average about eight or nine feet in length and weigh
from six to seven hundred pounds. The bulls are much
larger and have massive shoulders. They average twelve
feet in length and weigh around 1500 pounds. Many
extremely large bulls have been known to weigh well over a
ton. The life span of these animals is believed to be
about twenty years.
After mating season
when the harem structure dissolves, the herd bulls keep
constant vigil over their females. Occasionally a
young strong bachelor success in besting an older bull
thereby acquiring the herd. The herd bulls do not
leave their harems even for food for perhaps three months.
Only the largest ocean waves can drive them from the ledge
into the sea. Cows display no loyalty and when a harem
is broken up by a storm, the bulls may never recover all of
their chosen mates. Therefore, much of their work
involves keeping their "wives" from slipping away in search
of food or because of high waves and rough ocean.
Naturally the bulls have lost weight and are exhausted by
the end of the breeding season and they generally spend the
remainder of the summer by themselves, resting and regaining
their body weight and physical strength.
The only natural enemy
of the sea lion is the killer whale. Sea Lions can
easily escape the whale's pursuit by scrambling out of the
water onto rocky ledges. Throughout the years, people
have probably been the greatest threat to sea lion safety.
Keeping a safe distance is recommended so as to safeguard
the safety and natural process of the California Sea Lion.
*Lighthouse Peddler, Issue #27,
January, 2004, "A Little Newspaper By The Edge Of The Sea",