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10 Awesome Facts About Galapagos Sea Lions

Do you have a favorite Galapagos animal? For many, Galapagos sea lions are at the top of the list.

Swimming with them is a highlight for many who travel to the Galapagos Islands. They can be so playful and curious! In this post, you’ll learn 10 facts about these captivating critters.

Galapagos Sea Lion Zalophus wollebacki

Let’s look at what makes Galapagos sea lions unique.


10 Awesome Facts About Galapagos Sea Lions

Galapagos sea lions are found almost exclusively on the Galapagos Islands.  They are their own species – Zalophus wollebacki. 

What makes them so unique? Here are 10 facts that will answer that question.

1) Galapagos sea lions are not afraid of people

These sea lions have gone without many predators because of their isolated location. The only predators they have are sharks, killer whales, and dogs. So, like most Galapagos animals, they have no reason to fear people.

The following video shows just how comfortable they are around people.

Watch on YouTube via BBC

2) Galapagos sea lions are one of only a few marine mammals resident in the Galapagos

Most of the other marine mammals in the Galapagos cannot be considered residents because they are migratory. There are only two species of seals (including the Galapagos sea lion), two of whales, and two of dolphins that are true Galapagos residents.

3) The Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebacki) is endemic to the Galapagos Islands

These sea lions may look like the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) but are different. They are smaller and breed primarily on the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos Sea Lions on the beach

4) You can tell males and females apart by their size, color, and  forehead shape

The adult males are larger than the females. When dry, they are usually dark brown or varying shades of gray. The adult males have a pronounced bump on their foreheads.

Adult females are light brown or tan with a smaller forehead.

All sea lion pups are dark brown when born, and as they mature they change to a light brown or tan. Young Galapagos sea lions have a nearly flat head.

5) They are the largest endemic land animal in the Galapagos

While there are larger animals in the Galapagos (like cows, goats, and horses), sea lions are the largest endemic land animal. These islands are 1000 kilometers (600 miles) from the mainland – that’s a long swim for a land animal.

6) Young Galapagos sea lions love to swim with people

This is something many people want to experience when they visit the Galapagos and it’s definitely a thrill.

The young pups stay in shallow waters until they are around five months old. During that time, they don’t even fish for themselves. They have no reason to be territorial or aggressive. Even at 12 to 24 months they are only partially independent, they will continue to nurse until their mother has another pup. And even then, she may continue to nurse the older pup. They don’t mature until they are around 4 to 5 years old.

In the following video, you can see how playful these young Galapagos sea lions are.

Watch on YouTube via doubleminht

7) They may breed year round

Since Galapagos sea lions don’t migrate outside the archipelago, their breeding season isn’t dependent on migration patterns. And while their breeding season may vary from year to year, it normally lasts 16 to 40 weeks between the months of May through January. For that reason, you might see pups throughout the year.

8) Galapagos sea lions are protected

The Galapagos Islands are surrounded by a marine resources reserve and are part of the Ecuador National Park. Strict rules protect sea lions and other animals that live there.

9) They stay relatively close to shore

Your chances of seeing a Galapagos sea lion are pretty good because they rarely travel more than 16 km away from the shore. And they prefer flat rocky areas and sandy beaches, like we do. They also like to rest on benches or chairs near the water. That makes for some great photo opportunities.

Galapagos Sea Lion Facts

10) Galapagos sea lions are vulnerable

There are around 20,000 to 50,000 Galapagos sea lions in the archipelago. While this might sound like a lot, because they are endemic they are at a higher risk of endangerment. They are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Infectious disease and the effects of El Niño storms are a constant threat.

Swimming with Galapagos Sea Lions

There you have it, 10 things that make Galapagos sea lions unique. Did I miss anything? If so please add to this post by commenting.


Galapagos Sea Lions and You

Have you swam with Galapagos sea lions? Are you hoping to when you visit? Please tell us about it by commenting on this post.

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