Second only to the Northern Elephant Seal, the Steller Sea Lion is the largest marine mammal on the Oregon coast. It’s differentiated from the smaller California Sea Lion by its lighter color (usually tan to dark red), a heavy block-shaped head and a blunted snout. Mature males lack the distinctive sagittal crest on the top of their skull common in California Sea Lions, but will have a thick ruff reminiscent of a lion’s mane.
Spanish explorers referred to the animals as lobos marinos, which translates to “sea wolves” – a reference to the dog-like barks they produce. Although awkward on land, they are strong swimmers and formidable predators. Their diet consists mostly of fish, although they will prey on other marine mammals such as seals and sea otters if the opportunity arises. They have few natural predators, but are hunted by Orcas and Great White Sharks.
Steller Sea Lions were common throughout the northern Pacific Ocean from eastern Asia to the west coast of the United States. They can be found as far south as southern California, although they prefer colder climates. In Oregon, they are commonly found on the South Coast with notable populations living year-round at the Sea Lion Caves north of Florence and at Simpson’s Reef near the town of Bandon.
Threatened. The population of Steller Sea Lions has declined dramatically in the last few decades, although scientists are unsure why. Historically, this species has been of little interest to human beings, possessing neither desirable meat nor fur. When killed by people, it’s usually been by fishermen who consider them a nuisance and unwanted competition for various fish stocks. They are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act, but poaching continues to be a problem.