Marine Mammals and Pinnipeds

Diver and sea lion interacting near the bottom with a Kelp in the foreground  from our marine mammals and pinnipeds blog

We have had the opportunity to see and photograph marine mammals and pinnipeds both underwater and on the shore. We’ve found that on most occasions they are friendly and inquisitive. Since we live in Southern California we have dived with the sea lions here locally and at the Channel Islands many times. They like laying and sitting on the shore on the sand or rocks and sunning themselves. Being adapted to the water they are slow and clumsy on land and stay close to the water most of the time. However, out at the Channel Islands, we have seen them work their way slowly up a hill to rest and sleep.

California Sea Lions

They are sleek and fast in the water and love buzzing and playing with you. When you are not looking they will swim up behind you and tug on your fin. The juveniles are the most inquisitive and will playfully attack you as a group.

Guadalupe Fur Seals

We made a trip down to Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja CA to view and dive with the Guadalupe Fur Seals. Guadalupe fur seals are members of the “eared seal” family, Otariidae. Their breeding grounds are almost entirely on Guadalupe Island, off the Pacific coast of Mexico, They are also found at San Benito Island and the Northern Channel Islands. We took the liveaboard dive boat Horizon out of San Diego for the 200-mile 20-hour trip there. We really like this boat and have been to the Channel Islands on it many times for trips of 1 day to a week.

This trip was limited to 11 scuba divers and 11 free divers/spear fishermen. The spear fishermen would bring back fresh tuna and yellowtail every day while we were playing with the seals. The seals, like the sea lions, were playful and they would gather in groups on the surface and float upside down with their heads in the water. I wonder if they do this because Guadalupe Island is a breeding ground for Great White Sharks. We didn’t see any sharks but the fishermen did. We did make a trip down there the next year on the Horizon for their first white shark cage diving expedition. The sharks were awesome. There are some photos of the sharks on our Sharks and Rays page.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

The Bahamas are close to the US however they are quite a distance from San Diego but we have been there on 3 occasions. Once to sightsee, once to scuba dive on the local reefs around the islands and once to free dive with the Atlantic Spotted Dolphins on The Little Bahama Band. The Little Bahama Bank is a large area of shallow water that averages 14 feet in depth but has many coral heads or extensive sand banks reaching nearly to the surface, particularly near its edges.

We were on a small liveaboard with only 6 other passengers and a crew of 2. There are 2 ways to see the dolphins, sitting in 1 place and letting them find you or slowly cruising around the bank and looking for them. Since we were there for 4 days we did both and had many interactions with them. Like the sea lions, and other marine mammals and pinnipeds they were friendly and inquisitive and would swim up to and interact with you. Many of them had young dolphins with them that stayed close to the moms.

Sea loins in Baja

Another favorite trip was down to La Paz in Baja California to dive the local dive sites off of a liveaboard. We spent 2 days at a small rocky outcrop called los Isolates. It is home to a large colony of sea lions and is surrounded by large schools of small fish. The sea lion pinnipeds would suddenly appear out of a large school of fish and zoom past you, but there were other times they were playful and interacted with you. Some large bulls were a little scary at times and would approach you to warn you to keep back from their females.

Elephant Seals

Another excellent place to see pinnipeds is the Piedras Blancas Rookery. It is the only elephant seal rookery that is easily accessible. It is 7 miles north of San Simeon on Highway 1. There is a large viewing area with plenty of parking. The males, reaching 16 feet in length and weighing 5000 pounds start to arrive in November to stake out their claims for mating and pupping. Their fights are a real spectacle.

Leave a Comment