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Pinnipednesday - Otaria flavescens Edition

Last Pinnipednesday post of 2014! And a great way to ring in the new year.

The South American Sea Lion (Otaria flavescens) can be found on the coasts of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador, and southern Brazil. It is a creature of many names, as it was recently called Otaria byronia by most taxonomists. Other common names include the Patagonian Sea Lion and Southern Sea Lion, while its local names are lobo marino (sea wolf) and léon marino (sea lion). They're also the primary target of a very unique orca hunting strategy.


South American Sea Lions have pronounced sexual dimorphism in adults, with males growing up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) long and weighing 770 pounds (350 kg). Males have a stocky, muscled build with a thick mane, though coat color is not a sexual characteristic. Females are slim and streamlined, weighing only about 330 pounds (150 kg) and growing to about 7 feet (2 meters) in body length. South American Sea Lion colonies are scattered along rocky beaches, which is where they prefer to be during the breeding season.

The diet of South American Sea Lions consists of squid, octopus, anchovies, hake, penguins, young pelicans and Southern Fur Seal pups. They will steal prey cornered by dusky dolphins, who corral fish together in order for the pod to feed easily. South American Sea Lions themselves are preyed upon by sharks and orcas, who listen for the noise that the sea lion pups make when they're traveling across the beach and then launch themselves onto land in order to get close enough to snag one.


And here's a video that the depicts the strategy in action:

The mating season of South American Sea Lions occurs between August and December, while the previous year's pups are born between December and February. Males arrive at the breeding grounds first in order to start establishing territories, herding as many females as possible into their harems. Once harems and territories are established, unattached males sometimes conduct raids in order to capture females for themselves, and will sometimes abduct pups if they can't get mature females. Pups are often badly injured or killed during these raids. Females will nurse their pups continuously for their first week of life, and then will start making trips to the open ocean to forage for food. Pups are fully weaned after 12 months, when the next year's pup is born.


South American Sea Lions are depicted quite often in the ancient art of the Moche people, who lived in what is now Peru, and many different groups of indigenous people hunted them for sustenance. Hunting was taken to an extreme by European traders and colonists, and population numbers dropped perilously low. South American Sea Lions are now protected throughout most of their range (though sometimes these protections are not well-enforced), and they have since made a recovery, though the population of Peruvian animals was devastated by the El Niño of 1997.


Source for all images used in this post.

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