Male vocal displays play an important role in sexual selection through both male–male competition and female choice. While this is supported by numerous studies in birds, much less attention has been paid to the role of such displays in mammals. We investigated the function of vocal displays in a polygynous mammal, the Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki). In our study population a large proportion of mature males are unable to establish a territory, providing the opportunity to compare the vocal behaviour between territorial and non-territorial males. We examined how seasonal patterns of vocalizations differed between territorial and non-territorial males and how the number of females present in a territory influenced behaviour of territorial males. We found that territorial males vocalized at higher rates than non-territorial males, and territorial males vocalized more at the onset than towards the end of territory tenure. During the onset of territory-tenure vocalizations of territorial males were directed more often towards other males than females. Furthermore, we found that vocalizations of territorial males were not only given in male–male interactions, but were also actively directed towards females. Territorial males vocalized at higher rates when more females were present in their territory. Our results suggest that vocalizations are important in male–male interactions, are relevant in territorial disputes and are used as a proxy for females to assess a male’s quality.