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What Do Sea Lions Eat?

January 16, 2024

What Do Sea Lions Eat?

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Sarah Rashed Sarah Rashed

A question that Wild Animal Trainers get asked all the time at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium is “What do sea lions eat?”

In the wild, sea lions are opportunistic foragers. These marine mammals never know when their next meal is going to be, so they take advantage of any available prey. They have been observed eating more than 50 different species of fish and invertebrates.

Here at the aquarium, we offer our California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) an assortment of food items that reflect their natural behaviors. We primarily feed squid, capelin (a small schooling fish), and herring (a larger schooling fish). Squid is a good source of fiber, they receive the majority of their water intake from capelin, and herring provides fat and protein in their diet. We also offer them several other types of fish for variety and enrichment such as sardines, smelt, whiting, salmon, and more. Pictured above, sea lion Townsend is getting ready to swallow several capelin whole.

Understanding what sea lions eat is important for their conservation and management. Overfishing and pollution can have a significant impact on their food sources, which ultimately affects their survival. WCS is partnering with AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) to source sustainable seafood for the animals in our collections. 

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