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Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex
Pacific Region

Visiting the Refuges along the Oregon Coast is rewarding year-round, because each season brings different wildlife viewing opportunities.

Photo of a sea lion on the rocksPhoto of a pigeon guillemot in flight.Photo of two deer, a doe and fawn, at the shoreline. Photo of several common murres on a steep rock face.
Photo credits: USFWS

Wildlife Viewing Highlights
Download a Watchable Wildlife Map for the Oregon Coast


Pinnipeds are marine mammals that live mostly in the water but also spend time on land or ice when resting or breeding. Pinnipeds are found in polar, sub-polar and temperate waters. Pinniped, which means "Fin Foot" in Latin, includes the seals, sea lions, and walrus. These animals can be distinguished from one another by a few features. Seals have no external ear flaps, small fore flippers, and large hind flippers. Sea Lions have external ear flaps as well as larger fore flippers and hind flippers that they can rotate allowing for easier mobility on land. Walrus have no external ear flaps and like sea lions and fur seals they can turn their hind flippers around. Pinnipeds have a thick layer of insulating blubber that keeps them warm in cold water. They also have a large amount of hemoglobin and myoglobin, the oxygen carrying substances in the blood, which allows them to be well supplied with oxygen for their long underwater dives. Their diet includes fish, crustaceans, birds, and krill. Seals, sea lions, fur seals, and walrus all give birth on land, generally to only one pup. They are born with open eyes and flippers they can use. Pinnipeds can live to be twenty years of age.

California sea lionCalifornia Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) - California sea lions are found in near shore waters along the Pacific coast from Vancouver Island British Columbia to Baja Mexico. North of southern California, the hauling out grounds are occupied by males only, who migrate north for the winter. The females and their pups remain in California all year. Males may often reach 850 pounds, and seven feet in length. California sea lions can be heard making a barking sound. Males develop a bony bump on top of their skull called a sagittal crest. Females can grow to 220 pounds and up to six feet in length and are lighter in color than the males. Most pups are born in June or July. California sea lions are very social animals and rest together in tightly packed groups on haulout sites. The main haulout areas along the Oregon coast are in the Columbia River near Astoria, Newport's Historic Bayfront, and Shell Island of Simpson Reef.

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steller sea lionSteller Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus) - Steller or northern sea lions are found in the Pacific Ocean from Japan to southern California. Stellers, named after Wilhelm Steller, a German naturalist, tend to remain offshore or haulout in unpopulated areas. Stellers roar rather than bark and are much larger and lighter in color than California sea lions. Steller males weigh up to 2,200 pounds and can be 8 - 11 feet long. Females are smaller, weighing 600 to 800 pounds and growing 6 - 8 feet long. Adult males do not have a visible sagittal crest (the bump on the top of their heads) as the adult male California sea lions do. Stellers have a thick neck resembling a lion's mane. They breed in Oregon during the months of June and July. Breeding grounds occur along the North Pacific Rim from Año Nuevo Island in central California to the Kuril Islands north of Japan, with the greatest concentration in the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The main haulout areas in Oregon are Rogue Reef, Three Arch Rocks, and Shell Island. Steller sea lions are a federally threatened species in Oregon and in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska--their main concentration.

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harbor sealHarbor Seals (Pusa vitulina) - Harbor seals can be found in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans north of the equator. In the Pacific they range from Alaska to Baja Mexico and often can be seen in near shore coastal waters, bays, estuaries, and on sandy beaches and mudflats. Harbor seals are true seals having no external ear flaps. They have small flippers and can only move on land by flopping along on their bellies, called galluphing. Harbor seals have spotted coats in a variety of colors ranging from silver to dark brown or black. Males are slightly larger than females. They can be 5 - 6 feet in length and weigh up to 300 pounds. In California, pups are born in March and April and in parts of Oregon they are born in April and May. Unlike elephant seals, harbor seal pups can swim at birth. Harbor seals will spend half their time on land and half in the water, sometimes sleeping in the water. Harbor seals are year-round residents on the Oregon coast and can be seen at Shell Island of Simpson Reef, Salishan Spit in Lincoln City, Alsea Bay in Waldport, Strawberry Point State Park, and Nehalem Bay.

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elephant sealElephant Seals (Mirounga angustirostris) - Northern elephant seals are found in the North Pacific, from Baja Mexico to the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands. The elephant seal is in the same family as the true seal and thus lacks external ear flaps and moves on land by galluphing. During the breeding season, they live on offshore island beaches and a few remote spots on the mainland. The rest of the year the elephant seal lives well offshore. Elephant seals get their name because of their large noses resembling an elephant's trunk. Males begin developing this enlarged nose, or proboscis, at about three to five years of age reaching full development by age seven to nine. Adult males grow to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. The females are much smaller at 10 feet in length weighing less than 1,000 pounds. The northern elephant seal is the second largest seal in the world, after the southern elephant seal and can dive to depths of 5,000 ft. Elephant seals are winter breeders, and each winter, male elephant seals arrive first at their breeding beaches in Mexico and California to establish territories through dominance. Dominant males will inflate their noses and produce a drum like noise to warn other males away. When pups are born they cannot survive in the water for eight to ten weeks. Elephant seals molt each year between April and August, shedding their hair as well as the top layer of skin. The northernmost breeding site on the Pacific coast is Shell Island.

All marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which forbids the killing, harming, or harassing of any marine mammal. Those species that are listed as endangered are additionally protected under the Endangered Species Act.

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Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 2127 SE Marine Science Drive, Newport, OR, 97365
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Site last updated March 8, 2011