Pacific Pup: The California Coast According to Annette


I find it difficult to contain my envy while watching packs of loudmouthed sea lions living it up in the California sun. They feast on fresh seafood all day, between frequent naps on the beach. It’s easy to feel jealous at first; however, these perks come well deserved. Facing bone-chilling ocean temperatures, limited food supplies, and fierce predators like great white sharks, marine mammals have evolved outstanding adaptations for survival.

California Sea Lions are the class clowns of the coast. Piled on top of each other, barking like mad, they at first resemble loud and lazy beach bums. Below the surface, however, an entirely different personality emerges. The fastest of all seals and sea lions, they can swim up to twenty-five miles per hour. Slowing their heart rate allows them to remain submerged for up to ten minutes, yielding a great advantage while hunting for squid, fish, octopus, and other underwater delicacies (yum…). Breeding season lasts from June to July, showcasing their most active behavior. Pier 39 in San Francisco and the Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf are great places to catch these intelligent marine mammals in action. (Sea lions are returning to Pier 39, after a baffling disappearance!)
Shy and quiet cousins to sea lions are Pacific Harbor Seals. This well-mannered bunch often appears curious about people, yet they are wary of our presence, enough to abandon a pup if a human comes around. So, as I do with Snowy Plovers, I try to enjoy their charisma from a distance. Master divers, harbor seals reach depths of fifteen hundred feet, with the incredible ability to stay underwater for forty minutes. Like sea lions, these true seals are well insulated with thick layers of blubber.
Absolutely unique, southern sea otters spend their entire lives swimming among kelp forests (they even sleep wrapped in kelp!). Lacking blubber, they have their insanely thick fur to keep them warm: one million hairs per square inch. (You probably have about 100,000 hairs on your entire head.) Always surfacing for meals, they often stash prey in pockets of loose skin on the way up. Bellies become tabletops, and you might even hear otters using rocks to crack mussels, urchins, or whatever hard-shelled creatures are on the menu.
I’m constantly amazed by characteristics that allow animals to thrive in such challenging conditions. Are there animal adaptations that fascinate you to no end?
True entertainers, marine mammals have naturally become the subjects of stories, artwork, and even comics. Check out the artwork of Jenny Parks, Erica Fielder, and Kristin Link that I feel captures the inspiring lifestyles of what I like to call our “Dogs of the Sea.” I hope you can soon enjoy our coastal marine mammals, who have become iconic characters in California’s beach communities!
See you at the beach!
Annette Filice
Scientific Illustrator Intern

Sketch Notes:
Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina): Pacific Harbor Seals are ‘true’ seals, and lack external ear flaps, which helps distinguish them from Sea Lions. They are much more shy and quiet!
California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus): Whenever I observe Sea Lions, they are either basking in the sun, barking at each other, or catching a wave. I wish I had that life! They are some of the most social animals I know.
Southern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris nereis): Sea otters constantly groom their coast in order to make sure they are well suited to keep them insulated. Today I could hear them cracking shells to eat!


  1. Michael Murphy says

    Very interesting, I wonder why the sea lions left Pier 39. Maybe they just got sick of humans gawking at them and taking pictures…how rude! Awesome sketch, especially the otters…I wish I was an otter!

  2. Awww, I love those marine mammals! Sea otters especially; I used to collect all manner of sea otter paraphernalia when I was little. These illustrations are fantastic! I hope you do more sea creatures.

  3. says

    Dogsofthesea.. Awesome 🙂