Marine Mammals of California

Marine Mammals Online Booklet

Marine Mammals of California

by Anita E. Daugherty
Illustrated by Phil Schuyler

Third Revision 1979, Reprinted 1985.
Electronic format rendered May 1997 by Terry Tillman and Brianne Mitchell
Department of Fish and Game.

Marine Mammals Online Booklet (PDF)
Large file size - 1.5 MB

Frequently Asked Questions

How many sea lions and seals are there in California?

In California, one commonly sees California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals. According to federal population estimates (1995), there are approximately 161,000 to 181,000 California sea lions on the west coast. They give birth and breed primarily at the southern California Channel Islands from May to July. After the breeding season, adult males migrate north, some as far as British Columbia, Canada! In comparison, there are about 32,000 harbor seals along California's mainland and island coasts. Seals give birth and breed from February to May all along the California coastline. Unlike sea lions, harbor seals tend to remain in the same general area. Both populations are healthy and their numbers continue to increase.

Can private individuals do anything to prevent sea lions from invading and fouling our docks and boats?

All marine mammals are protected and managed by the federal government, under the stewardship of the National Marine Fisheries Service (the State has no jurisdiction). The 1994 Amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act gave property owners and government officials the authority to protect private and public property by deterring sea lions, provided the acts do not result in serious injury or death to the animal. Recreational fishermen can deter sea lions from damaging their gear and catch, again provided that the acts of deterrence do not result in serious injury or death to the animal. Methods may involve preventing access, acoustic devices, seal bombs, boat hazing, spraying with water, or lightly prodding. One cannot break skin, or direct an act at the head or eyes of the sea lion, or direct acts at seal lions that are hauled out on rocks or beaches. Firearms, crossbows, spearguns, harpoons, javelins, arrows, spears, or other similar devices are prohibited. Relocating sea lions or offering them tainted fish or other consumables is also prohibited.

We found a dead sea lion. Who takes care of it?

The disposal of the animal is the responsibility of the agency that manages the beach (either city, county, state or federal, depending on the area). Smaller animals, such as sea lions, seals, and dolphins, are usually transported to a landfill, or if the area is remote, they are buried on the beach. Whales may be towed out to sea. When a marine mammal washes up dead, agencies should first contact the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) who examine the animal for species, and determine the cause of death. Disposal of dead marine mammals is considered a "take" under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and must be reported to NMFS. Additionally, it is unlawful to take or possess parts of dead marine mammals without prior authorization from NMFS. To report a stranded or dead marine mammal, contact:

Justin Viezbicke
California Stranding Coordinator
National Marine Fisheries Service
501 W. Ocean Blvd Suite 4200
Long Beach, CA 90802
(562) 980-3230
(562) 506-4315 - Stranding Hotline