South American sea lions


Family: Otariidae
Specie: Otaria flavescens (Shaw, 1800) or Otaria byronia (de Blainville, 1820)

Common names:

English: South American Sea lion
French: Lion de mer d’Amérique du Sud
German: Südamerikanischer Seelöwe
Peru: lobo chusco
Uruguay and Argentina: León marino sudamericano, lobo marino de un pelo, lobo ordinario, lobo común, lobo grueso;
Chile: lobo chusco o león marino austral

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Page author: Stefan Austermühle

Description of the South American sea lion

South American sea lions have a rounded snout, and their pelage is short and coarse. Adult South American sea lions have a dark, brown back and yellowish-brown front, the males having a lighter colored mane and the females having lighter colored fur on the head and neck.

There is some variation in body size over the species’ range. Adult male South American sea lions measure an average of 2.6m in length and weigh around 300kg, while adult female South American sea lions measure an average of 1.8-2m in length and weigh around 150kg. Male pups are born weighing an average of 13.7kg and measuring 82cm in length. Female pups of the South American sea lion are smaller, weighing an average of 12.3kg and measuring 79cm. Female South American sea lions reach sexual maturity at 4-6 years, males at 5-6 years, although males only first achieve territorial status at 9-10 years. South American sea lions live for about 20 years

Distribution of the South American sea lion:

The species is distributed along the coasts of South America and the Falkland Islands. Along the Pacific Coast, reproductive colonies of the South American sea lions can be found from Isla Foca, Peru, southwards to Tierra del Fuego, Chile. and in the Atlantic from Isla de Los Estados (54°45′S) in Argentina to Recife dos Tôrres (29°21′S) in Brazil. Sometimes South American sea lions can be observed along the coast of Bahía in Brazil and in the Pacific along the coast of Ecuador, Colombia and Panama, as well as on the Galapagos Islands and Tahiti.

Population size of the South American sea lion:

The total population size of the South American sea lions is estimated at around 300,000 specimens, including:

  • Peru: approximately 100,000
  • Chile: 90,000
  • Argentina: 90,000
  • Uruguay: 12,000 – 15,000
  • And a few hundred in Brazil.

The populations of the South American sea lions in Uruguay and on the Falkland Islands show a rapid decline. On the Falkland Islands, the population declined from 400,000 specimens in 1930 to less than 6,000 in 1995. In Argentina, populations are increasing at around 3% annual (Seal Conservation Society 2000). In Peru, around 80% of the population of 144,000 South American sea lions died during the El Niño event 1997/98 leaving around 28,000 alive. Until now, the population has probably recuperated to an estimated 100,000 South American sea lions.


Ecology of the South American sea lion:


On land, their distribution is limited by the level of isolation, or in other words, by the level of disturbance that occurs. Generally, the South American sea lions concentrate on inaccessible areas like islands or at the base of coastal cliffs.

South American sea lion males start arriving at the breeding beaches in December in order to compete for territorial space. Each territory in the large rookeries that develop will contain an average of 3-6 females. Male South American sea lions who are unable to establish territories often attack undefended females and pups, and also sometimes attempt to mount, and in doing so kill, female and young Southern fur seals.

Most pups are born about 3 days after the mother’s arrival at the rookery, from mid-December to the end of January (from the end of January to the end of February in northern Chile). The pup of the South American sea lion is born with a black coat that will turn brown to reddish-brown after a few months. The mother usually mates about 7 days after giving birth, and then leaves her pup in order to feed at sea. This begins a cycle, lasting 6-12 months, in which the mother forages at sea for about 3 days and then nurses her pup on shore for about 2 days. Pups enter the water at about 3-4 weeks for the first time and are good swimmers by the time they are 2 months old.

Marine ecotourism is a great way to help conserving sea lions. Take a tour and swim or dive with sea lionsin Peru with our associated travel operator Nature Expeditions.

You can also become a conservation volunteer with Mundo Azul



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Page author: Stefan Austermühle

Related links:

Dive and swim with sea lions

Save the sea lions

Natural history of fur seals

Save the fur seals

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