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One of the highlights of my scouting trip to Canada in 2004 was a visit to a huge Sea Lion colony in the Broken Islands Group off the west coast of Vancouver Island. I went out on a whale watching trip, ostensibly to see Gray Whales, but having tracked one whale for half an hour or so the boat captain decided to take a short side-trip to a couple of isolated islands nearby where literally thousands of Stellar & Californian Sea Lions had set up camp. The clamour from such a gathering of pinnipeds was quite deafening, even from a good distance away, and as we approached the first island dozens of loudly barking Californian bulls swam out to meet us.

The colony seemed to be made up predominantly of bulls of both species, and there was plenty of testosterone pumping about the place. The two pictured above were in engaged in an enthusiastic bout of neck wrestling and had a real air of self-importance about them. There were amazing photo opportunities everywhere you looked and with a non-stop of barrage of sights, sounds, and smells it was a real assault of the senses. It is apparently quite unusual to see large numbers of Stellar & Californian Sea Lions living in "peaceful" co-existence. The boat captain provided wonderful commentary highlighting the scientific differences between the two species which culminated in the wonderful punchline, "but of course they both smell equally bad!", and everyone on-board was hard pushed to disagree with this insightful observation.

While the Californian bulls seemed quite physically active - heckling the boat as they frolicked in the water, or wrestling or jostling each other - their much larger Stellar counterparts seemed content to assume the high ground and assert their dominance with striking, though essentially static posturing. The boat captain was able to position the boat quite close to these massive behemoths, so much so that we were almost overpowered by their rather fishy breath. Looking closely at these powerful animals it wasn't hard to see why some biologists reckon them to be closely related to bears.

You cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer size of an adult bull Stellar Sea Lion, and having previously been terrorised by a playful one while scuba diving off Vancouver Island a few years ago, getting a full appreciation of their sheer body mass left me quite in awe of them. It was hard to envisage a more physically intimidating animal, but of course in the animal kingdom no matter how big you are, you are rarely immune from predation and many of the Sea Lions I saw bore scars presumably inflicted by Orcas or Great White Sharks.


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