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Keywords:

  • animal behavior;
  • conservation;
  • ecotourism;
  • management;
  • pinnipeds

Abstract

California sea lions Zalophus californianus occupy 26 islands in the Gulf of California (GoC), Mexico. Although human presence is prohibited on these islands without a government permit, the law is not enforced and tourism to the islands is increasing. Tourists, along with local fishermen, often come ashore to get close to the animals, which may disrupt behaviors critical for reproduction. In this paper, we report the results of an experimental study on the behavioral effects of human disturbance on California sea lions in the GoC. To document effects, we recorded sea lion behavior immediately before and in 10-min intervals for up to an hour after experimental human disturbance. Our results showed few behavioral responses of sea lions to human disturbance. Adult females and juveniles demonstrated immediate responses, but these were not consistent between years, apparent an hour after disturbance, or evident across other age and sex classes. These results suggest that California sea lions may be resilient to human disturbance and a possible flagship species for ecotourism, but further studies of the physiological and population-level effects of human disturbance are needed.