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Keywords:

  • California sea lion;
  • Zalopbus californianus;
  • attendance pattern;
  • El Niño;
  • weaning;
  • maternal behavior;
  • non-breeding season

Abstract

The attendance patterns of California sea lions were studied during the non-breeding seasons from 1991 to 1994. Lactating females frequented the rookery to nurse their pups until weaning; most non-lactating females left the rookery for the season. Females spent over 70% of their time at sea except in 1993 when they spent 59% of their time at sea. The mean foraging trip length in the winter and spring ranged from 3.3 to 4.6 d; the mean nursing visit ranged from 1.2 to 1.4 d. The duration of foraging trips and nursing visits was variable over the season for individuals but no pattern of change was detected. Interannual and seasonal differences were not significant for time at sea, visits ashore, or foraging-trip duration before, during, or after the 1992-1993 El Niño event. Pups spent an average of 66.6% of their time ashore and up to three days away from the rookery during their mother's absence. Most females and pups stayed associated until April or May. The results suggest that seasonal movement of prey is more important in determining attendance patterns late in the lactation period than increasing energy demands of the pup.