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California sea lion

Zalophus californianus

Our colony of Californian sea lions is the noisiest group of animals in our Cave Hill site but they are also some of the most popular residents!

While the waters and shores of Belfast Lough are home to seals there are significant differences between these native mammals and the California sea lions that live at Belfast Zoo. Seals have no external ears and sea lions have small ear flaps on either side of the head. Sea lions are able to use their front and back flippers to scoot along the shorelines, but seals must wiggle, roll or slide to move around outside of the water. Our native seals also swim differently using their tail flippers, instead of their side flippers to propel themselves.

Male sea lions are more than two metres long and can weigh up to 490 kilograms. Female sea lions are, on average, 1.8 metres long and weigh up to 110 kilograms.

Sea lions, seals and walruses are part of the scientific group of animals called pinnipeds. All of these species are marine mammals and spend the majority of their time in the ocean searching for food. They all have flippers at the end of their limbs to help them swim, have a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm in chilly temperatures and they also all eat fish!

Our California sea lions love to sunbathe on the rocks but you can also check out their incredible swimming skills at the underwater viewing area. Call by at feeding time to see the gang making a ‘splash’.

This species is managed under as ESB (link opens in new window).

IUCN Status

The IUCN status of the California sea lion is least concern.

For more info on classifications visit

  Fun fact Look at the ears to tell the difference between a seal and a sea lion!

Animal class


Conservation status

The California sea lion is currently under no threat of extinction.




There may be as many as 350,000 California sea lions living in the wild. Their population is generally stable and may even be increasing.


Piscivore. California sea lions eat fish, squid and octopus.