Sea Lions and The Sea Lion Story

A few California sea lions began “hauling out” on PIER 39′s K-Dock shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake hit San Francisco in October 1989. By January 1990, the boisterous barking pinnipeds started to arrive in droves and completely took over K-Dock, much to the exasperation of PIER 39′s Marina tenants. The Marina Staff turned to The Marine Mammal Center, an organization devoted to the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals, for advice about their new slippery tenants. After much debate and research, the experts from The Marine Mammal Center recommended that the sea lions stay in their newfound home.

With a plentiful supply of food from the Bay and an environment protected from predators, the PIER 39 Marina proved to be an ideal living situation for the sea lions. Within a few short months, the number of sea lions grew to more than 300 and hit an all-time record of 1,701 in November 2009.

While the number of sea lions at K-Dock rise and fall with the seasons, available food supply and natural migration patterns, the world famous sea lions always have a home at PIER 39.

Naturalists from Aquarium of the Bay will be at K-Dock daily from 11am-4pm, Memorial Day through mid-October (weather permitting).

Watch original footage of the sea lions’ 1990 arrival to PIER 39:

Fun Facts About Sea Lions
  • California sea lions are known for their intelligence, playfulness and noisy barking.
  • Although they usually avoid humans, sea lions may bite if provoked.
  • Male sea lions reach 850 lbs (390 kg) and 7 ft (2.1 m) in length, while females can reach 220 lbs (110 kg) and up to 6 ft (1.8 m) in length.
  • You can distinguish males from females: males develop a bump or “crest” on their heads at four or five years of age. A majority of the sea lions at PIER 39 are male.
  • Sea lions have external ear flaps: seals do not.
  • Sea lions in the wild may live up to 25 years.
  • Sea lions migrate to areas across the Pacific Coast, from Vancouver to the southern tip of Baja. Most pups are born on the Channel Islands located off Southern California in June.
  • California sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is unlawful for unauthorized persons to feed, handle or harass them.
  • One of the biggest dangers to sea lions today is becoming entangled in plastic pollution.