Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco's Sea Lions | San Francisco Travel
Sea Lions rest on PIER 39's K Dock at Sunset
Did you know? The majority of the sea lions at PIER 39 are male.

Everything You Need to Know
About San Francisco's Sea Lions

Get the fast facts on some of San Francisco's most iconic residents, the sea lions of PIER 39.

Ah, San Francisco; where rent is so high that 400-plus sea lions have to share one dock! Since 1990, a colony of California sea lions have camped out in force on PIER 39. They bark, they nap, and in that way they remind us of ourselves. Below are some notable facts about these iconic animals.

Sea lions are not seals, okay?

They get really angry if you confuse them, so it’s best to know the difference. Seals are more streamlined with few protruding body features. Their ears and genitals are tucked inside their bodies so they can glide through the water faster, a tactic they possibly learned from Michael Phelps. Also, sea lions have big fins in front that help them walk. So, if an animal is waddling towards you on flippers and you can see its ears, it’s a sea lion—and you should probably move.

How the heck did they get here?

When two sea lions love each other very much…oh, you mean, “How did they get to San Francisco?" The Sea Lion Center of San Francisco says that they arrived here in 1989. Sea lions do this thing called “hauling out”— and if you didn’t picture sea lions dancing to “Roll Out” by Ludacris, you’re not doing it right. Hauling out is when the animals look for spots to rest and get it on between bouts of swimming and hunting. The sea lion population increased in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake when people started moving their boats away from the pier, thus leaving more space for the sea lions to hang out.

But, like, how many sea lions are there in San Francisco?

The number fluctuates based on migratory patterns and prey movements, but at one point there were over a thousand sea lions chilling on the docks! Today, there are 93 sea lions lounging, according to the Sea Lion Center. You can watch them on this live stream camera (you know, if your boss isn’t looking).

What can I do to help support the sea lions?

You can give them the gift of conservation and help keep their home safe and clean.

Hit me with some more more facts!

  • Sea lions have a lifespan of 20-25 years. Typical San Franciscans: napping away their 20s crammed into a small space. 

  • Sea lions are opportunistic feeders, meaning that instead of feeding on one type of prey, they will eat almost any prey available. It’s like that one friend who is a health nut but sometimes buys Jack in the Box because it’s late and it’s on their way home. 

  • Male California sea lions can grow up to 800 pounds! 

  • There are seven types of sea lions but California sea lions are said to be the most intelligent. They read a lot of Michael Chabon books and don’t own TVs.


The Golden Gate Bridge at sunset with a multicolored sky and the San Francisco Bay in the foreground.
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