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California Sea Lion: Amazing Swim to Get More Food

California Sea Lion: Amazing Swim to Get More Food

I don’t know about you, but I am a fan of sitting on a beach watching who decides to pass through. On Pacific Northwest beaches, I’ll admit, I often sit with a hoodie and a blanket to bird watch. However, while I sat down to bird watch on a very classic PNW gray day, I witnessed a California Sea Lion jumping out of the water.

I refocused my camera toward the California Sea Lion and saw not one, but three. Often, I see just their heads pop up out of the water as they look about above the surface. Or, sometimes I just see the ripple in the water after their heads dive back underwater. This time, however, it appeared as though one of the Sea Lions had discovered a new food source. I suspected this because a fishing boat, a large host of gulls, and three Sea Lions had crowded into one area.

Sitting transfixed with my camera and trying not to freeze my hands, I watched as one California Sea Lion jumped out of the water repeatedly. Two tended to swim a little ways away, but one had entered the thick of things and appeared to disrupt the gulls on the surface.

When the fishing boat left half an hour later, the gulls began to disperse. The three Sea Lions started to swim a different direction and more how I normally see them. They popped their heads above water, looked around, then swam further and repeated the process.

I went back inside and did some research. Identifying them by color, size, and the exterior ear flap, I found that the male California Sea Lion often swims far distances to get different food sources. On the other hand, the California Sea Lion females usually tend to stay in warm waters and do not grow nearly as large.

Sea Lion jumping out of water with gulls.
California Sea Lion Jumping near Gulls

Here are some more facts to help you identify them if you’re on the Pacific Coast!





California Sea Lion Defining Characteristics:

  • Noticeable external ear flaps (seals do not)
  • Long foreflippers with fur that extends down to small claws
  • Hind flippers shorter with small claws
  • Males weigh 440-880 lbs, Females 110-240 lbs
  • Live 15-25 years
  • Males are larger and darker brown than females who are smaller and a lighter tan color
  • Males have a noticeable sagittal crest and do not have a mane
  • Makes barking sound
  • Can swim in water or “walk” on land with flippers
California Sea Lion jumping out of water near log in puget sound on a gray day.
Jumping out of Puget Sound


  • Pacific coastlines and coastal waters
  • Like offshore rocky islands


  • Southern British Columbia coastlines south toward Baja, Mexico
  • One isolated population by the Galapagos Islands
  • Females usually remain in warm waters while males often migrate to cooler northern waters, like Puget Sound for different feeding grounds
  • Higher concentrations of populations near Mexico and California

California Sea Lion & the Traveling Nature Journal

California Sea Lion two-page nature journal spread including a photo, a sketch, and text.
Two-Page Nature Journal Spread.

Beyond stoked that I had a photo of the California Sea Lion jumping out of the water, I started there. Using the trusty Fujifilm Instax Printer, I printed the polaroid and worked around it. I like how I can make it portrait or landscape. I already had it out since this occurred on the same day that I spotted the Killer Whale jumping.

For the sketch, I wanted to make sure that it really showed the external ear flap that differentiates Sea Lions from Seals. While I mostly see them in the water in the Pacific Northwest, I have seen them on land south in California. In 2015, I road tripped the entire length of Highway 1 in California and Highway 101 in Oregon. I used an old photo from that trip that I had to sketch this California Sea Lion. First, I sketched with a pencil and second, I traced over it with Sakura Micron Pen 08.

Then, I added some basic facts. The Marine Mammal Center had some great information.

Lastly, I added my field notes. Personally, I think if you add anything to a nature journal, the field notes are the most important. Those are your experiences. No one else’s. You witnessed it in real time with your own eyes. While I like having basic information in my journal as well, field notes are the gold.

Sea Lion jumping out of puget sound on a gray day
Jumping to Jump.

Tuesday 24th of November 2020

WOW! I didn’t know that the males went northbound feed, when the females stay south. Thank you for this information.


Tuesday 24th of November 2020

Pretty cool, right? I thought it was interesting when I realized that I had only seen males here, so I looked more into it!

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