Sea Lions are generally gentle, playful animals that are curious about humans. They are considered to be highly intelligent animals. As well as being able to learn tricks, they have also been trained to help the United States Navy!
However, like all animals, they can become aggressive if they feel threatened or if they are protecting their young.
In this post we explore when are sea lions dangerous, as well as why and when these normally playful animals might attack.
When Are Sea Lions Dangerous?
Sea Lions are not usually dangerous, although given their massive size and weight, you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise. They are usually playful and come into contact with humans quite often.
However, there are a few instances where sea lions can be dangerous. For example, Sea lions can become dangerous if they feel ill, threatened or if they are protecting their family. If someone gets too close to a mother and her pup, the mother may become aggressive. Additionally, if someone is swimming and a sea lion comes too close, they may get bitten.
There are occasions where sea lions have presented a danger not as an act of aggression, but perhaps by accident. One example of this was in 2017 when a little girl was snatched off a dock in Canada by a sea lion. People had been feeding the sea lion and it is thought the girl was grabbed by accident. Ultimately all involved were ok, but the outcome could have been very different.
Are Sea Lions Dangerous To Humans?
While sea lions generally aren’t considered dangerous animals toward humans, there have been a few cases where they have attacked.
For example, in March of 2018, a sea lion jumped out of the water and attacked a surfer in California. The surfer was able to fight the animal off and was not seriously injured.
Similarly, in December of 2017, a sea lion attacked a snorkeler off the coast of Hawaii, causing some injuries. So while such attacks are rare, they can happen occasionally.
They are more likely to attack if they are ill and uncomfortable, or during breeding season, though even at these times it is rare.
Sea lions will defend themselves and their family when threatened too. They may become aggressive and bite or scratch people, and they can also carry diseases that can be harmful to humans. So it’s important to be aware of these risks if you come into contact with a sea lion.
If you encounter a sea lion, it is important to remain calm and give the animal space.
Are Sea Lions Aggressive?
While there are times when sea lions may attack others or fight amongst themselves, they are generally not aggressive animals by nature. They are very social animals, and enjoy living in large groups.
While they travel in groups of up to 12 or so individuals, when they get together in colonies at feeding or breeding grounds, there may be over a 1,000 individuals!
Within the colony Sea Lion Pups live together in a ‘Rookery’ (like a nursery). Pups can be seen together napping, feeding and playing together. It is common to see one Cow caring for a group of Pups while the other cows go off into the waters to feed. This is not the behaviour of an inherently aggressive animal.
When presented with a predator, they are more likely to flee than fight, and this is their nature.
There are a few species of sea lion, the Californian sea lion is probably the one that has had the most exposure to humans, and is notably friendlier than some of the others. The Galapagos sea lions are large, but the Steller sea lions are the largest, up to 2,500 lbs in weight!
Can You Swim With Sea Lions?
Most of the time, it is perfectly safe to swim with sea lions, as long as it is done so with a guide. It would not be recommended to do this during mating season, or around populations unfamiliar and unexposed to humans you may consider the intrusion a threat. But in open water, in areas where they are familiar with humans, there is a guide and you follow the guidance, swimming with sea lions is both safe and fun.
Do Sea Lions Attack Each Other?
Yes, there are times when sea lions will fight each other. The most common occurrences are during breeding season. At this time, males may be aggressive towards each other protecting their territories from outsiders. Females will also fight each other to protect their pups.
In one rare event, documented in the national geographic in 2017, a male bull sea lion was even reported to have resorted to cannibalism, brutally killing and eating a pup on Russia’s Medny Island. It’s thought the male did this to several pups. This was a single occurrence though and no other cases of cannibalism have been recorded. Its unclear why the bull resorted to this behaviour.
How Does A Sea Lion Attack?
Sea lions have strong jaws. As one report claims, a bite off a sea lion is the equivalent of being bitten by four Doberman dogs. They have between 34-38 strong, sharp teeth for carving and chewing, as you would expect for a carnivore. Any attack from a sea lion is likely to involve a bite, aggressive barging or a scratch.
When fighting each other, sea lions will push each other chest to chest, as well as biting and wrestling. A bit like sumo wrestling but with biting.
When Will A Sea Lion Attack?
There are a few reasons why a sea lion might attack. For example, if someone gets too close to a mother and her pup, the mother may become aggressive. Additionally, if someone is swimming and a sea lion comes too close, they may get bitten.
Males will protect their territory, so any swimmer getting too close during breeding season may find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There have also been reports of domoic acid poisoning being behind many unprovoked attacks by sea lions. This occurs when they consume an excessive amount of algae from their diet, particularly shellfish.
What Defences Do They Have?
Sea lions have several defences that help protect them from predators. They can swim quickly and dive very deep to escape danger. Additionally, sea lions are able to use their sharp teeth and claws to defend themselves if necessary.
Another key defensive trait is the ability to move around on both land and water. They can escape aquatic predators like orcas and great white sharks by getting out of the water. On land, their hindflippers rotate underneath to allow them to walk.
What Predators & Threats Do Sea Lions Have?
Sea lions have a few predators. Both the great white shark and the orca killer whale are known to hunt and kill sea lions for food. Additionally, humans pose a threat to sea lions as we hunt them for their fur and meat. While they are protected in many areas now, historically they were hunted widely for food, blubber and skin.
Today, they still come into conflict often with fishermen, particularly in salmon spawning grounds. Fishermen have been known to shoot sea lions in competition for the fish.
Galapagos Sea Lions are especially vulnerable to human activity. Their inquisitive and social nature makes them more likely to approach areas inhabited by humans and to come in contact with human waste, fishing nets and hooks.