California Sea Lion - Appearance, Physiology, and Movement

Appearance, Physiology, and Movement

Being sexually dimorphic, California sea lions differ in size, shape, and coloration between the sexes. Males are typically around 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long and weigh up to 350 kg (770 lb), while females are typically around 1.8 m (5.9 ft) and weigh up to 100 kg (220 lb). Females and juveniles have a tawny brown pelage, although they may be temporarily light gray or silver after molting. The pelage of adult males can be anywhere from light brown to black, but is typically dark brown. The face of adult males may also be light tan in some areas. Pups have a black or dark brown pelage at birth. Although the species has a slender build, adult males have robust necks, chests, and shoulders. Adult males also have a protruding crest which gives them a "high, domed forehead"; it is tufted with white hairs. They also have manes, which are less developed than those of adult male South American and Steller sea lions. Both sexes have long, narrow muzzles.

As an otariid, the California sea lion relies on its foreflippers to propel itself when swimming. This form of aquatic locomotion, along with its streamlined body, effectively reduces drag underwater. Its foreflipper movement is not continuous; the animal glides in between each stroke. The flexibility of its spine allows the sea lion to bend its neck backwards far enough to reach its hindflippers. This allows the animal to make dorsal turns and maintain a streamlined posture. When moving on land, the sea lion is able to turn its hindflippers forward and walk on all fours. It moves the foreflippers in a transverse, rather than a sagittal, fashion. In addition, it relies on movements of its head and neck more than its hindflippers for terrestrial locomotion. Sea lions may travel at speeds of around 10.8 km/h (6.7 mph), and can dive at depths of 274 m (0.170 mi) and for up to 9.9 minutes, though most dives are typically 80 m (0.050 mi) and last less than 3 minutes.

Sea lions have color vision, though it is limited to the blue-green area of the color spectrum. This is likely an adaptation for living in marine coastal habitats. Sea lions have fairly acute underwater hearing, with a hearing range of 0.4–32 kHz. Sea lions rely on their whiskers or vibrissae for touch and detection of vibrations underwater. Compared to the harbor seal, the California sea lion's vibrissae are smoother and less specialized and thus perform less when following hydrodynamic trails, although they still perform well.

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