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Otaries à crinière © MNHN - F-G Grandin

The South American sea lion

The South American sea lion, Otaria flavescens, is a mammal, not a fish. It has lungs and cannot breathe underwater. Very at ease in water, it holds its breath as it dives.


Class, order and family :
Mammalia, Carnivora, Otariidae
Life span :
up to 20 – 29 years in captivity
Size & Weight :
1.5 - 2 m for females and 2.5 m for males, 120 - 150 kg for females and 250 - 400 kg for males
Gestation period :
11 ½ months, one pup per litter
Natural habitat :
rocky coastlines
Diet :
Native region :
along the western coasts from northern Peru down to Cape Horn and on the east coast up to southern Brazil
Statut UICN : 

Least Concern (LC)


A male sea lion has a harem of around 9 females. The births, which are synchronised within the group, coincide with a new breeding season. While the males are fighting over territory and females, it is not uncommon for newborn pups to be crushed under the weight of an agitated adult. During the mating season, they guard their harem jealously, restricting the females to one territory along the shore.

Distinctive features

The male has a magnificent mane and is much larger than the female. He weighs around 300 kg whereas the female weighs around 3 times less. The sea lion is naturally insulated against the cold, whether it is diving in the depths of the ocean or sprawling on the coastline rocks battered by the icy winds of Patagonia. A layer of blubber under its skin serves as insulation while its thick fur, coupled with a waterproof undercoat thanks to oily secretions, keeps its skin really dry… even in the water.


It’s difficult for a mother to find her pup in a noisy, lively colony of a few thousand sea lions. Yet she has to regularly leave it to go and catch fish in the sea. When she returns, she barks and waits for her pup to reply so that she knows where it is.

South American sea lions feeding

Les autres animaux de la biozone Patagonia biozone