Though a massive sea lion basking in the sun at a California pier was surrounded by hundreds of other sea lions, he’s the one getting the attention.
That’s because he’s a bit different than the others that typically chill on the docks of PIER 39 in San Francisco.
He’s a Steller sea lion, PIER 39 wrote in a recent newsletter.
The species is the “largest of the Otariidae family which includes both sea lions and seals” PIER 39 said.
The Steller sea lion, which was first sighted on May 4, is estimated to be about 3 years old, Giancarlo Rulli, a spokesperson for The Marine Mammal Center, said in an email to McClatchy News.
“While it isn’t uncommon to see them, they are often hauling out (coming onto shore) on remote islands or stretches of beach that are inaccessible to people,” according to The Watershed Project.
PIER 39 is typically home to California sea lions.
“Steller sea lions are similar in appearance to California sea lions and are sometimes confused with them,” Rulli said. “However, Steller sea lions are much larger and lighter in color.”
The males can grow as long as 11 feet and weigh as much as 2,500 pounds, while the females can grow to as long as 9 feet and weigh up to 1,000 pounds, according to Rulli.
“Steller sea lions are light tan to reddish-brown in color,” Rulli said. “They have a blunt face and a boxy, bear-like head.”
Though Steller sea lions have been spotted at PIER 39 previously, Rulli said there is no data about how many of these sightings have happened in the past.
The Marine Mammal Center believes the sea lion’s appearance may be the result of the species “moving down the coast to gather at PIER 39 before mating season,” PIER 39 wrote.
This species, particularly males, “can travel long distances in a season,” Rulli said.
There are two nearby Steller sea lion rookeries, or breeding colonies, on Southeast Farallon Island and Año Nuevo Island, according to Rulli. Some of the species, however, travel as far as Southern California.
This Steller sea lion likely belongs to the eastern population group, which are commonly found along the U.S. and Canadian coast, according to Rulli.
The eastern group was listed as threatened in 1997 but delisted in 2013, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The western population, however, is endangered.
There are estimated to be about 52,000 Steller sea lions from the eastern population alive today, according to The Marine Mammal Center.