Sea lions are sea mammals characterized by external ear flaps, long foreflippers, the ability to walk on all fours, and short, thick hair. Together with the fur seals, they comprise the family Otariidae, eared seals, which contains six extant and one extinct species (the Japanese sea lion) in five genera. Their range extends from the subarctic to tropical waters of the global ocean in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with the notable exception of the northern Atlantic Ocean. They have an average lifespan of 20–30 years. A male California sea lion weighs on an average about 300 kg (660 lb) and is about 8 ft (2.4 m) long, while the female sea lion weighs 100 kg (220 lb) and is 6 ft (1.8 m) long. The largest sea lion is the Steller's sea lion, which can weigh 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) and grow to a length of 10 ft (3.0 m). Sea lions consume large quantities of food at a time and are known to eat about 5–8% of their body weight (about 15–35 lb (6.8–15.9 kg)) at a single feeding.
The name sea lion is somewhat misleading, as sea lions are only distantly related to lions and other felines. Sea lions evolved from the canines, splitting from the bear line after it split from other dogs. Sea lions could thus more appropriately be called sea bears.
Together with the fur seals, they constitute the Otariidae family, collectively known as eared seals. Until recently, sea lions were grouped under a single subfamily called Otariinae, whereas fur seals were grouped in the subfamily Arcocephalinae. This division was based on the most prominent common feature shared by the fur seals and absent in the sea lions, namely the dense underfur characteristic of the latter. Recent genetic evidence, however, strongly suggests Callorhinus, the genus of the northern fur seal, is more closely related to some sea lion species than to the other fur seal genus, Arctocephalus. Therefore, the fur seal/sea lion subfamily distinction has been eliminated from many taxonomies. Sea lions are related to the walrus and the seal. Nonetheless, all fur seals have certain features in common: the fur, generally smaller sizes, farther and longer foraging trips, smaller and more abundant prey items, and greater sexual dimorphism. All sea lions have certain features in common, in particular their coarse, short fur, greater bulk, and larger prey than fur seals. For these reasons, the distinction remains useful.
Sea lion attacks on humans are rare. In a highly unusual attack in 2007 in Western Australia, a sea lion leapt from the water and seriously mauled a 13-year-old girl surfing behind a speedboat. The sea lion appeared to be preparing for a second attack when the girl was rescued. An Australian marine biologist opined the sea lion may have viewed the girl "like a rag doll toy" to be played with. In San Francisco, where an increasingly large population of California sea lions crowds dock along San Francisco Bay, incidents have been reported in recent years of swimmers being bitten on the legs by large, aggressive males, possibly as territorial acts.
The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped the sea and its animals, and often depicted sea lions in their art.
A gathering of more than 40 sea lions off the coast of California
^Wynen, L.P. et al.; Goldsworthy, SD; Insley, SJ; Adams, M; Bickham, JW; Francis, J; Gallo, JP; Hoelzel, AR et al. (2001). "Phylogenetic relationships within the eared seals (Otariidae: Carnivora): implications for the historical biogeography of the family". Mol. Phylog. Evol.21 (2): 270–284. doi:10.1006/mpev.2001.1012. PMID11697921.