Massive Sea Lions Visit Vancouver

Photo credit: ubermoogle2006 | Flickr

Photo credit: ubermoogle2006 | Flickr

They’re as long as a car and can weigh as much.

Enormous Steller sea lions, which can grow to three metres and more than 1,000 kilograms, have taken up their spring residence in Steveston, in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond.  The huge pinnipeds are joined by dozens of only slightly smaller California sea lions, an annual rite of passage off the Vancouver coast.

The colony consists entirely of bachelors.  Some 2,000 male sea lions make the migration through colder B.C. waters to balmy California and Mexico every spring for breeding season. Along the way, they stop for a breather along the eight-kilometre-long Steveston jetty.

While the noisy, and sometimes smelly, fraternity is not visible from land, you can spot the sea lions via boat or on an ecotour.   Bruce Livingston of Steveston Eco Tours tracks the return of the sea lions every spring and brings guests to within a respectful distance to admire their blubbery prowess.

This year, Livingstone was excited to spot several Steller sea lions – ponderous, fat-chested males with flat snouts and regal manes.  The western stock of Stellar sea lions was listed as endangered in the U.S. in 1997 after numbers plummeted precipitously, possibly because of overfishing of the pollock and herring they eat.

Along the jetty, the brotherhood of sea lions feasts on a seafood buffet of octopus, squid, mackerel, rockfish and smaller fish.  When not eating, they lounge on the jetty and get into brawls over prime sunning spots.  Fiercely territorial, the testosterone-crazed males fend off rivals with ferocious grunts and often come to blows, slapping their necks together in a show of force.

Other than that, their main concern is avoiding the killer whales that lurk just off the B.C. coast, known to gobble down sea lions in a few bites.

The sea lions tend to stick around Steveston for much of the spring, with numbers dwindling by the start of June.  They’re only visible from sea, and boaters are encouraged to keep a respectful distance.

Has anyone seen the Steveston sea lions? Let us know below. 

For more updates on Vancouver and beyond, follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.

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