Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus and nutritional stress: evidence from captive studies


D. A. S. Rosen. E-mail:


  • 1Numbers of Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus in the North Pacific have declined. According to the nutritional stress hypothesis, this decline is due to reduced food availability. Data from studies conducted on pinnipeds in the laboratory are used here to test if the nutritional stress hypothesis can explain the decline of Steller sea lions.
  • 2Overall, there is strong evidence for biologically meaningful differences in the nutritional quality of major prey species. Steller sea lions can partly compensate for low-quality prey by increasing their food consumption.
  • 3There appear to be no detrimental effects of low-lipid prey on sea lion growth or body composition when sea lions can consume sufficient quantities of prey. However, the ability to increase consumption is physiologically limited, particularly in young animals. Overall, it is more difficult to maintain energy intake on a diet of low-quality prey than on a normal diet.
  • 4Under conditions of inadequate food intake (either due to decreased prey availability or quality, or increased energy requirements) the overall impacts of nutritional stress are complex, and are dependent upon season, prey quality, age and the duration and intensity of the nutritional stress event.
  • 5Studies on pinnipeds in the laboratory have been instrumental in identifying the conditions under which changes in sea lion prey can result in nutritional stress and the nature of the physiological impacts of nutritional stress events.