Australian sea lion

Neophoca cinerea

SUBFAMILY

Otariinae

TAXONOMY

Neophoca cinerea (Peron, 1816), Kangaroo Island, Australia. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: White-capped sea lion; French: Lion de mer d'Australie; German: Australischer Seelöwe; Spanish: Lobo marino de Australia.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Males are dark brown to nearly black with a white patch on the head and nape of the neck. They weigh more than 441 lb (200 kg). Females weigh up to 231 lb (105 kg), and have a white belly and tan back.

DISTRIBUTION

Ocean off the southern coast of Australia.

HABITAT

This species breeds in protected locations at many sites along the southern coast of Australia. Females seek holes in rock or under brush to bear and suckle young. More than 50 breeding colonies are known, only five of which produce more than 100 young per year.

BEHAVIOR

Australian sea lions are territorial like other otariids, and females form groups. They will not flee when approached by humans. Many aspects of their behavior are altered by the long breeding season.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The species takes a combination of cephalopods, crustaceans, and fish. It often feeds on the bottom, and has been known to take lobsters from inside fishing pots.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygynous. This species has the most unusual reproductive biology of any otariid. Females have a 17.5-month breeding cycle; colonies breed out of synchrony with each other. The breeding season lasts five months. Individuals have strong site fidelity.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened. The species was once hunted for skins and oil but was probably never as numerous as the local fur seals. Their numbers are now estimated at 9,300-11,700. Their potential for further increases is limited by the low productivity of their limited feeding habitat.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Tourist attraction on Kangaroo Island. Here and elsewhere the species shows little fear of humans. ♦

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