A Steller Day
Yesterday started out really nice here on the coast with bright sun and blue skies however by the time I was able to finish running errands and get home those blue skies were rapidly turning grey with rain on the way. This is just how my photography luck has been going recently. Still wanting to get out and shoot something I knew I would be able to count on one local subject being around no matter what the weather is and that's the Steller Sea Lions down on Float 15.
Prior to moving to Washington, I had never seen Sea Lions other than at the zoo and you definitely couldn't get this close to them although I recommend keeping your distance as they are wild animals and will act accordingly. I have a rather large zoom lens which lets me get in close and not risk my own safety or that of the Sea Lions. What we have in Westport are known as Steller Sea Lions and can grow up to 11 feet long and 2,500 pounds with the females being in the 9ft / 1,000-pound range. Adult males have a rather bulky build and a very thick neck with longer fur much like a lion's mane hence the name Sea Lion.
Steller sea lions are found in coastal waters of the North Pacific Ocean from Japan to central California.. Breeding occurs along the North Pacific Rim from Año Nuevo Island in central California to the Kuril Islands north of Japan, with the greatest concentration of rookeries (breeding grounds) in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands.
Pups typically are born on islands from mid-May to mid-July and weigh 35-50 pounds (16-23 kg). Mothers stay with pups for one to two weeks before hunting at sea. During the breeding season, mothers spend roughly equal amounts of time hunting and nursing pups on land and gradually spend more time at-sea as nursing pups get older. Pups usually nurse for a year, but some continue to nurse for up to three years. Mating occurs 10-14 days after the pups are born. Dominant mature males maintain territories for one to two months and mate with many females. During the breeding season, males do not eat. Since we are in pupping season and it's not uncommon to see a pup on the beach Please do not touch or go near them, resist that urge to selfie with a Sea Lion as your only putting that baby at risk.
Steller sea lions eat a variety of fishes, invertebrates, and occasionally other pinnipeds. Known predators are killer whales (orcas) and white sharks.
Threats to Steller sea lions include:
- boat/ ship strikes
- contaminants/ pollutants
- habitat degradation
- illegal hunting/ shooting
- offshore oil and gas exploration
- interactions (direct and indirect) with fisheries
- Direct fishing impacts are largely due to fishing gear (drift and set gillnets, longlines, trawls, etc.) that has the potential to entangle, hook, injure, or kill sea lions. They have been seen entangled in fishing equipment with what are considered "serious injuries."
- Indirect fisheries impacts include having to compete for food resources and possible modifications to critical habitat by fishing activities
Historically, threats included:
- hunting for their meat, fur hides, oil, and various other products (in the 1800s)
- killing and placing bounties on this species, which fishermen blamed for stealing fish from them (in the early 1900s)
- killing to limit their predation on fish in aquaculture facilities (fish farms), but intentional killing of Steller sea lions has not been permitted since they were protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and listed under the ESA (not since 1972)