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Australian animals: the sea lion

We find out all we've ever wanted to know about the Australian sea lion.

By Jessica Wilkinson
Published: May 18, 2017

Did you know that sea lions are part of the Otariidae family? That they bark like dogs, not roar like lions? We didn't, which is why we wanted to know more about the friendly 'puppy of the sea.' Calypso Star Charter in South Australia have answered all our questions so you can find out a little bit more about the Australian sea lion.

Get to know Australia's sea lions

Video guide: Sea lions in Port Lincoln, South Australia

Why are sea lions called the puppies of the sea? Are they related to canines?

“Australian sea lions are not related to canines although are often referred to as 'the puppies of the sea' based on their affectionate behaviour shown towards divers.”

Why are they called a sea ‘lion’? Are they from the same family as cheetahs, tigers and lions?

“Australian sea lions are a pinniped of the Otariidae family (eared) and are able to use their flippers to move through the water but also walk on land. It is thought that the 'lion' reference is part due to their fawn colouring. They tend to 'bark' more like a dog than 'roar' like a lion when communicating.”

Are they dangerous?

“Any wild animal has the potential to be dangerous when provoked or in a territorial dispute. But, in the years of swimming with the sea lions, there has been no recorded injury to a tour participant in South Australia.”

Sea lions, Port Lincoln, South Australia

Do sea lions play with sticks? Will they fetch?

“Sea lions commonly play with rocks! They actually swallow rocks before heading off to hunt. This increased weight helps them to dive and stay at depth for longer periods of time while using less energy to overcome their buoyancy.”

Do they migrate when it's cold?

“Sea lions remain within 300 kilometres of their birthplace but often retreat to higher ground further from the water's edge during inclement weather. Australian sea lions have been sighted several kilometres inland.”

What are their whiskers for?

“It is unclear what their whiskers are for but are most likely to assist them in sensing their prey.”

How long do they live for?

“An exact age is not known however it is thought to be around 20-25 years.”

Sea lion with snorkelers, Port Lincoln, South Australia

How long can they hold their breath for under water?

“Sea lions can hold their breath for several minutes and swallow stones to reduce their buoyancy to assist with diving.”

Are sea lions an endangered species?

“Australian sea lions are an endangered species. It is believed that there are less than 15,000 in the wild and recent studies show a decline in the population of 4% annually.”

Do they clap their hands when they’re happy? Or is this only in captivity?

“If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands! This is not an observed behaviour in the wild, nor is balancing a beach ball on their nose.”

How many different types of sea lions are there and how many come from Australia?  

“Australian sea lions are endemic to Australia ranging from Western Australia and Victoria. The majority of the population is in South Australia across several breeding sites.”

Sea lion, Port Lincoln, South Australia

What are the tactics sea lions use when hunting in packs?

Sea lions are generally lone hunters and travellers.”

Do sea lions poop while they are swimming in the water?

“Yes, they can.”

What are sea lions’ social relationships and structures like? 

“Australian sea lions are able to distinguish their young by sight, sound and smell. They are also able to adopt another pup if its parent is separated or killed.”

Can a sea lion mama have twins or triplets?

“Unsure. Australian sea lions breed every 17.6 months and have the ability to not fall pregnant.”

What are the most important things for sea lion parents to teach their little cutie sea lion children?

“To hunt and to avoid threats which include obstacles in the oceans, nets, boats and sharks.”