We’re talking about California Sea Lions here, not the smaller harbor seals – or the much larger Steller’s Sea Lions from the north. While most of these guys were born in the Channel Islands of California and migrated to the Salish Sea for the same reasons we did: seafood and an easy life. Some big males can eat over 50 lbs of fish a day, made easy by their big eyes that can see color and have almost 20/20 vision. Underwater hearing is very good as well, with small protruding ears to help. To reach tasty but deep squid or rockfish, they can dive to 700 feet and use their ultra-sensitive whiskers to search out a meal.
Since people don’t like competition from other big toothful predators, for many years sea lions were shot on sight by fishermen, eventually reducing their numbers to about 1000 by the 1930’s. People change, laws change, and the sea lion has recovered to about 300,000 today. But at the same time, fish species have plummeted due to overfishing by us, and conflicts erupt yearly when sea lions stake out recovering salmon runs. Some are now shot illegally, officials drop fire crackers on them, carcasses regularly wash ashore. It’s not easy to live with wildlife, but we need to figure this out. Save one endangered critter and then they start eating too much of another. We both enjoy salmon, squid, herring and rockfish, but as usual, the problem is that there are simply too many people, not too many sea lions!
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work can be seen in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.