Sporadic Events

Sea Lions Invade Monterey Harbor (2003)


  • Late spring to early summer 2003, roughly 600 sea lions converged at Breakwater Cove.
  • Officials described it as the largest rest ashore of sea lions since 1990, with over 1500 individuals in the harbor.
  • Difficulty finding food in other areas is cited as a possible
  • The sea lions hampered harbor use, clogging access.

In the late spring and early summer months of 2003, hundreds of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) were spotted at Breakwater Cove in the Monterey Harbor. Approximately 600 sea lions converged onto the Coast Guard jetty, the harbor ramp, and dock areas. The presence of these marine mammals delighted visitors and frustrated those who wanted to use the blocked ramp.

It is possible that the sea lions came to the harbor and areas near the coast to find food. The light El Niño year may have made it harder to find food in other areas. The last two times that sea lions have crowded the harbor were in 1997 and 1990. The sea lions typically stay a few weeks and leave on their own without being provoked. Harbor officials agreed that this was the largest “haul-out”, or rest ashore, of sea lions in 5 years, but it is nothing compared to 1990 when the harbor saw around 1,500 individuals.

The California sea lion is the most commonly sighted pinniped near our coastline. A member of the family Otariidae, this seal has external ear flaps and large flippers that can be used to walk on land. These animals are gregarious, intelligent and curious and for these reasons are often trained in zoos and aquariums. The wild population is estimated to be roughly 200,000 individuals and is growing each year.


Links to More Information

Facts about the California sea lion from the Marine Mammal Center: Learn more about these amazing marine mammals

Hear the barking sounds of the California sea lion

Did you know: More interesting sea lion information from NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory

The Marine Mammal Protection Act: See the complete act that protects the California sea lion as well as other marine mammals

%d bloggers like this: