South American Sea Lions (Otaria Flavescens) were extensively hunted from the 19th and 20th centuries. Their numbers became severely depleted by commercial sealers right up until the 1950’s. These animals are under threat from marine pollution, entanglement, el Nino effect and loss of habitat. There are regular calls from the fishing industry to have the species culled, even though no scientific evidence exists to blame them for a drop in fish stocks. They are regularly hunted for their genitals to be used in the Asian aphrodisiacs market and toxic chemicals and heavy metals have been found in several autopsies.
Males begin to arrive at the breeding sites in December where they fight with rivals for territorial status. These territories may contain on average around 3 females. Bulls that are unable to muster their own territories will band together and go on a raid, often attacking undefended females and juveniles, injuring or even killing them in the process as they attempt to change the status quo.
Females give birth to a single pup, usually 3-4 days after arriving on shore. The pups, which are born with a black coat, weigh +/- 12.5 kg and measure around 80cm in length. Male pups tend to be slightly larger than females. As the pup matures, it will shed its black coat for a reddish-brown one.
The mother remains with her pup for the first week, after which she will mate and then head out to sea to feed. Her foraging trips will keep her away for 2-3 days after which she will return to shore to nurse and suckle for 1-2 days. This cycle lasts for between 6-12 months or until the pup is fully weaned. Pups will take to the water when they are around one month old and are quite adept swimmers at 8 weeks.
Females reach sexual maturity when they are between 4-6 years and males at between 5-7 years. As with many pinnipeds, males will only get territorial status when they are much older, in this case at an age of between 9 and 10.
Sexual dimorphism is fairly pronounced with adult males weighing around 300kg and measuring 2.6m in length as opposed to the females who weigh in at around 150kg and measure just short of 2m in length. South American Sea Lions can live for around 20 years.
Despite regulations to the contrary, many fishermen continue to persecute this species. Hundreds of them are illegally shot each year.
Their interaction with commercial fisheries has led to additional persecution, with reports of them being dynamited coming out of both Brazil and Peru.
Although they feed mainly on a diet of fish and cephalopods (anchovies, hake, squid and octopus) South American Sea Lions have been known to prey on pelicans, penguins, gulls and even South American Fur Seals
The ancient Peruvians used to worship the sea and its animals and these Sea Lions are depicted in much of their art of the time.
They are also known as Patagonian Sea Lions, Southern Sea Lions and the now defunct scientific name Otaria Byronia.
South American Sea Lions are preyed upon by sharks and Killer Whales.