Sea lions are fascinating marine mammals which demonstrate high levels of intelligence and social skills. Their playful antics and largely timid nature sometimes afford humans the opportunity to interact safely in the wild.
At present seven species of sea lion have been identified: the California Sea Lion, Steller Sea Lion, Australian Sea Lion, Galapagos Sea Lion, New Zealand Sea Lion, South American Sea Lion and the Japanese Sea Lion (went extinct in the 1950’s).
They are to be distinguished from seals in the following ways:
– larger flippers
– “walk” on land as opposed to using their bellies
– visible ear flaps
– very noisy, often “barking” loudly
– highly social
In fact sea lions are so prone to socializing that they often congregate in gregarious groups called “herds” or “rafts” that can reach upwards of 1,500 individuals. This type of colony is a common occurrence along the eastern shore of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. The nutrient rich waters of the Sea of Cortez, probably one of the richest in the world with over 800 species of marine vertebrates, and the nearly 100 islands found in these waters, make this region a perfect haven for sea lion colonies.
The California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) which inhabits these islands, is considered the most intelligent and social of the entire group. They are most often seen in water theme parks and have been used by the US Navy.
Local, experienced operators from La Paz offer snorkeling tours to the sea lion colonies of the Espiritu Santos Island, where great visibility underwater and constant interaction in the wild makes for an unforgettable experience with these wonderful creatures.