We frequently encounter the Steller SeaLion (Eumetopias jubatus) during our sea kayak outings along the Northwest coast. The kayak’s exceptional mobility and stealth provides an excellent opportunity to observe and study their behavior, both in the waters around us, and occasionally when they hall out to rest on ancient slabs of rock at water’s edge.
From a secluded harbor we paddled for several hours, first along a rocky forested coastline, then around the sandy fringes of an expansive delta, and after a short offshore crossing arrived at the southeastern end of Benjamin Island.
The much older Tlingit name for the island Taan X'aat'I (Sea Lion House) seemed more to the point for us, as we made our camp just inside the tree line. From here our plans included hiking around to the other side of the island and observing the Sea Lions from the cliffs above.
It was early spring and the rainforest undergrowth was just wakening up from winter’s slumber when we arrived. Luckily steady cold breezes from the ocean worked in our favor and carried our sent away from the shoreline. Moving quietly we followed game trails along the parameter of the island that slowly rose in elevation to overhanging cliffs and rocks on the western side.
We moved forward to the edge of the rocks slowly in order to not alert the Sea Lions to our presence or otherwise change their behavior. From our concealment we were able to photograph and video the colony below undetected. We sat on our perch and observed their interactions, looking to capture with our cameras moments of social relationships between individual Sea lions.
When it came to who’s who on the hall out the biggest bulls had the best situated slabs of rock and plenty of room to lounge about, they also enjoyed their pick of the females. All other potential suitors or interlopers will have to fight for the privilege. This battle hardened champion’s face and neck bore the scars of many such encounters.
Steller Sea Lions together are a gregarious and rowdy bunch, and their shoving and bellowing created a near constant ruckus as returning individuals arrived in search of family members and a spot to relax. Hard to believe that any of them gets much rest, but all this jostling about no doubt reinforces social bonds and hierarchy within the group.
For us it was a privilege to visit the house of the Sea Lion and to observe first hand their remarkable lives on the island’s rocky shore. Before we left we circled the island in our kayaks making sure to stay well clear of the hall out (100 yards). At that distance we did not seem to affect their behavior so we stopped to admire them from a water level view.
Continuing on around the island we stopped for snacks on a nearby smaller Island and gazed back towards Benjamin Island and surrounding coastline. Standing there on the pebbly beach we contemplated how fortunate we were that these natural treasures had been wisely protected for all of us to enjoy, Sea Lions included.
“What speaks to the soul, escapes our measurements.” ― Alexander von Humboldt