Sea Lions and Fur Seals

 Steller sea lions are common locally (common in certain areas) on Togiak Refuge. Northern fur seals also inhabit Togiak Refuge shorelines, but are rare.

  • Eared Seals (Otariidae)

    Marine mammals spend all or the majority of their time in water, and thus are specially adapted to this way of life. Their thick layers of fat help to keep them warm in frigid waters. Since they are mammals, they must always come up to the surface to breathe, although they can often hold their breath for surprising lengths of time.

    The Otariidae, or eared seals (like the Steller sea lions below), are differentiated from true seals by several traits. The animals in this group have external ear flaps. Flipper structure also differs, as does means of locomotion on land: eared seals "walk" by extending their front flippers to the sides and often rotating their hind flippers under their bodies like feet. True seals, in contrast, do not use their flippers, but lurch across the land by throwing themselves about and hunching like inchworms.

    There are two distinct groups within the eared seals: fur seals and sea lions. Togiak Refuge has one representative from each of these groups, however, northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) are infrequently seen. 

  • Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus)


    Newborn Steller sea lions are dark brown to black. They shed their hair at 4 to 6 months and grow new, lighter hair. This pattern repeats until the adult color, a light tan to reddish brown, is reached. Adult males can grow to almost 2500 pounds, and be as long as 11 feet. Adult females are significantly smaller, weighing up to 770 pounds and growing to 9.5 feet in length.

    Fish, such as herring, cod, and pollock, are the main food source for these sea lions. Octopus, squid, and the pups of other marine mammals supplement their diet. The Steller sea lion is viewed by many fishermen as a competitor.

    Male Steller seal lions arrive at rookeries in May. The males establish and defend territories, fasting during this time in order to maintain a constant vigil over their patch of turf. Females arrive in late May or early June, and mothers give birth to a single pup from the previous breeding season 3 days after arrival. Mothers will stay on shore for more than a week to nurse their pups before returning to the sea to feed. Pups are usually fully weaned after one year. Eleven to fourteen days after giving birth, females will mate again. Males will mate with all the females within their territory.

    Populations of the Steller sea lion have been declining throughout the past few decades, and the species has been placed on the endangered species list as a threatened species. For more information of the status of this species, visit NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office.

  • Resources

     Reeves, Randall R. et al. 1992. The Sierra Club handbook of seals and sirenians. Sierra Club Books. San Francisco California.