This all ties in quite nicely with my own logbook, which shows the seals are less likely to make contact in the summer, when presumably they are off having their babies and suntanning in more protected locations, and then returning in December to check out the mating action. Sometimes it even seems I'm being considered as a potential candidate because they come very close by, often swimming right underneath me, while batting their eyelashes and making splashes. Only trouble is I don't know if they think I'm male or female, and I can't really tell what they are either.
|Stellar Sea Lions|
The most obvious difference of course is size, with the Harbour seals weighing in at between 120-370 pounds and the Stellar sea lions between 1300-2500 pounds. On the other hand a male Elephant seal can easily get up to 5,000 pounds (even though the females are only around 1,400 pounds) so seals can be just as big. But the most distinguishing feature is their flippers. The two back flippers on a seal form a tail like structure that aids them in being very efficient in water but very awkward on land and their front flippers are quite small. The sea lion on the other hand has very large, powerful front flippers, that are its primary source of propulsion, and its rear flippers can turn forward so it can move on all fours quite easily on land.
One of these haulouts is just off Hornby Island where, starting in December, the males from California head north and the Stellar males from Alaska head south, (leaving the women and children behind at the home rookeries) to congregate for a big bachelor party and herring feast. This is a popular spot for scuba divers to interact with these friendly beasts, who act like playful dogs, and want nothing more than a little diversion, while they wait for the herring to arrive. Occasionally these sea lions take a detour to check out the sights and sounds around the Vancouver area as well and last weekend I found myself playing with one on a dive off Whytecliff Park.
|Sea Lions & Nelson at Hornby Island|
Nonetheless, between the seals showing up for the start of mating season and the sea lions getting ready for their annual bachelor party I always look forward to seeing my aquatic companions in December and every encounter is always special.