Harbor Seals and Sea Lions
Harbor seals are the most commonly seen seals along Oregon’s coast. On our whale watching trips if the ocean conditions are favorable, I like to take people into Whale Cove where there are 50-100 harbor seals resting on the rocks. Their average size is five feet in length; the adult males weigh around 200 pounds and females 170 pounds. Most are bluish-gray with black spots and irregular white rings and loops. They prefer the temperate, ice-free coastal waters of the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans, and can be found from Alaska south to Baja, California.
Harbor seals like to spend equal amounts of time on land and sea and are graceful swimmers, but a little clumsy on land. They seldom venture far from water, and can be seen resting on bay and estuary sandbars at low tide. When they are on land they move in a wriggling manner, pulling their bodies along with their short flippers. Their favorite haul out areas are the rocks and reefs along coast which are the hubs of their daily activity and annual cycles, providing them a resting spot, reproductive activities, births, caring for the young, and the annual molt. Seals can dive to 600 feet and remain underwater for 12-15 minutes. Unlike sea lions, they make very little noise and are considered non-migratory. Their diet consists of herring, smelt, flatfishes, lampreys, sculpins, squid and octopus. The lifespan of the harbor seal is about 20 years.
California Sea Lions
The California sea lion has thick fur plus a dense layer of under-hairs that stay dry when the animal is underwater and a thick layer of blubber to help maintain its body temperature. The males can weigh an average of 800 pounds and are seven to eight feet long, females weigh less, about 200 pounds and measure an average of five feet in length.
The mature males have dark red or chocolate brown fur that appears black when wet; females have a light brown fur coloring. Males develop sagital crests, bony bumps on the top of their skulls that turn lighter as they age. A long snout gives the California sea lion an almost dog like face. The sea lions habitats are Bays, estuaries and waters near shore, from southern Mexico to southwestern Canada. Most of population migrates to southern California and Baja peninsula during the breeding season. Females are joined by males during the breeding season, which is May-August.
Males migrate to winter feeding areas off Oregon, Washington and Canada, sometimes taking over docks and piers. They seldom travel more than 10 miles offshore and usually haul out on beaches or rocky shorelines in groups. If you have ever been whale watching on the Whales Tail you know that they also love to hang out on Depoe Bay’s buoys. At times you will see them floating together on the ocean surface, with flippers in air, in an action called “rafting”. Sea lions are very vocal, and make barking like sounds. Their diet consists of Squid, Octopus, schooling fish, rockfish, and salmon. Their lifespan is about 17-18 year’s, their predators are orca whales and great white sharks.