Cathedral Cove

Overlooking a shallow bay from high on a cliff. White and grey seagull is perched on a rock.
Cathedral Cove

Tim Hauf,

Quick Facts

Scenic View/Photo Spot

The .6-mile, round trip hike from the visitor center leads a an overlook with views of the north coast, Cathedral Cove, and sea lions hauled out and sunning themselves on the narrow, rocky shoreline below.

The isolated beaches scattered along Anacapa's northern and southern shores offer harbor seals and sea lions an ideal combination of safety from predators and freedom from human disturbance.

Even Anacapa's isolation could not protect these and other sea mammals from human predation. Fur hunters exploited the large communities of sea otters near the Channel Islands. Fur seals, elephant seals, and sea lions were also killed for their fur, hides, and oil. Even sea lion whiskers were a popular commodity. Gentlemen used them for pipe cleaners.

Sea mammal hunting ended in the early 1900s and laws now protect these marine species. Today harbor seals and sea lions regularly breed on Anacapa's rocky beaches. Their protected populations are nearly recovered from centuries of slaughter.

Learn more about seals and sea lions at our website: Marine Animals

View the Cathedral Cove and peregrine falcon webcam at: Channel Islands Live Peregrine Falcon Webcam

An Ocean Park and Sanctuary

From this incredible overlook, one has the opportunity to gaze upon another part of the park-the marine environment. One nautical mile of water around each island in the park is part of Channel Islands National Park, and six nautical miles around each island form Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

The Channel Islands lie within a large embayment known as the Southern California Bight-an area just below Point Conception where the California coastline turns sharply to the east. Within this area, the seafloor is composed of canyons, banks, escarpments, sea mounts, and deep basins (the Santa Cruz Basin is deeper than the Grand Canyon). Nutrient-rich waters upwelling from these depths mix and mingle with cool waters from the north (California Current) and warm southern waters (California Countercurrent), creating the Santa Barbara Gyre-a swirling eddy that circulates nutrients and supports a wealth of marine plants and animals, from giant kelp forests and blue whales to tiny crabs and plankton. Here, northern and southern species overlap, creating a transition zone between the Oregonian and Californian marine biogeographic provinces.

**Kelp Forests**
The isolated islands contain the most undisturbed stretches of coastline in southern California, providing some of the best conditions for kelp forests and their inhabitants.

Kelp is a type of alga that, under ideal conditions (cold, nutrient-rich water), is one of the fastest growing organisms on Earth-it can grow two feet per day. This foliage provides food, shelter, and protection for over 800 different species-from foraging nudibranchs, to grazing snails, to fish seeking refuge, to whales feasting on plankton.

But we must not forget about ourselves. Not only do we feed upon some of the animals that depend upon the kelp forest, but also those of us who eat ice cream, salad dressing, and even use toothpaste are all using a little bit of seaweed as well. Kelp is harvested for a natural ingredient called algin, which is used as a suspending, stabilizing, emulsifying, gel-producing, and film-forming additive in more than 70 commercial products. In addition, marine algae and plants such as kelp provide Earth with 80 percent of its oxygen.

Despite these benefits, the kelp forest and its inhabitants are in jeopardy. Pollution and over-harvesting of marine species have altered the kelp forest ecosystem. Kelp forests in southern California today cover less than half the area they covered at the turn of the 20th century.

However, with the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs), improved pollution controls, fishing regulations, research, and public education, some of these problems have been corrected.

**Marine Protected Areas**
Within the park and sanctuary a network of MPAs provides a refuge for sea life and opportunities for recreation, education, and science. In 11 marine reserves (including two on Santa Rosa Island-around Carrington and Skunk Points), recreational fishing and commercial harvesting are prohibited; limited fishing and harvesting are allowed in two marine conservation areas. The MPAs total 318 square miles, the largest such network off the continental United States and part of a larger effort throughout the world to conserve natural, historic, and cultural marine resources.

California Sea Lion

**Scientific Name**
Zalophus Californianus

California sea lions, Zalophus californianus , are probably the most familiar marine mammal at the Channel Islands. These smart, playful animals are often seen feeding, playing in the surf or lounging on beaches around San Miguel, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara, but may also be seen on the other Channel Islands. These members of theotariidor walking seal family have external ear flaps and large flippers that they use to "walk" on land. The trained "seals" in zoos and aquariums are usually California sea lions. Significant breeding rookeries for this species are found on the California Channel Islands.1

**Quick and Cool Facts**
- Sea lions produce loud roars and barking, which helps explain why they're named after lions. Males of some sea lion species even grow thick manes around their necks. 2

- California sea lions are among the most gregarious marine mammals, forming dense aggregations of a thousand or more animals on land. 2

- In the wild this species can live up to 17 years, although in captivity, one California sea lion lived over 31 years. 3

- The deepest dive ever recorded by this species was 900 feet and it lasted just under ten minutes. 3

- Ninety percent of the young are born in June. They are born on land and nurse for a year or more.3

- The stomach of an average California sea lion may contain as many as 100 pieces of gravel sized rocks. No one is sure yet what they are used for but it is believed that they are used to ease hunger pains during their mating and fasting periods. 4

- San Miguel Island is home to one of the largest rookeries in the world for California sea lions with a breeding population of approximately 80,000 animals.

The California sea lion is the well-known performing "seal" of zoos, circuses, and oceanaria. In both sexes, the muzzle is dog-like and long, slightly tapering to a moderately blunt end. Adult males are substantially more robust and larger than females. Male California sea lions reach lengths of almost 8 feet in length, and weights of more than 600 pounds. Females, may reach up to 6 and a half feet in length and weigh up to 240 pounds. Newborn pups are about two and one half feet in length and weigh in from 13 to 20 pounds.

The species has visible ear pinnae (ear flaps) on either side of its head (this is one distinguishing difference between sea lions from seals). Mature adult males have a raised forehead called the sagittal crest which increases to about an inch and a half at ten years of age. In adult males, the sagittal crest creates a high peaked crown. The crest begins to emerge at sexual maturity and, although highly variable, is most prominent in full-grown males. Females lack a pronounced crest and have a thinner head that slopes more gently to the end of the muzzle. This makes sub adult and juvenile males very difficult to distinguish from females. A California sea lions fore flippers are large and winglike, with the skeletal structure of a land animal. However, they have been modifies for swimming with cartilage extensions at the end of the finger bones. Not present are claws or hair. The California sea lion has a small flattened tail between the hind flippers.

The color of California sea lions is highly variable. When dry, the coat of most adult males is dark brown. However, many males do not darken completely, remaining sandy brown on the sides, belly, and rear quarters. On most males, especially darker individuals, the crest and a corresponding area on the muzzle and around the eyes lighten with age. Adult females and juveniles are uniformly tan. Pups are born with a thick brownish black lanugo that is generally molted by the end of the first month.The succeeding light brown juvenile coat is shed 4 to 5 months later, and as adult males age, the hair around their heads lightens to a light tan is replaced by adult coloration. All ages and sexes have contrasting black flippers, naked except for a short stubble of dark fur partially covering the upper surface. 1, 7

The California sea lion ranges along the western coast and islands of North America, from southeast Alaska to central Mexico. Mitochondrial DNA sequences in 2009 have identified five distinct California sea lion populations: the US or Pacific Temperate stock, the Western Baja California or Pacific Tropical stock, and the Southern, Central, and Northern Gulf of California stocks. The US stock breeds mainly in the Channel Islands, although some breeding sites may be established in northern California, and females are now commonly found there. The Western Baja California stock mainly breeds near Punta Eugenia and at Isla Santa Margarita. The stocks of the Gulf of California live in the shallow waters of the north (Northern stock), the tidal islands near the center (Central stock), and the mouth of the bay (Southern stock). 5

During the breeding season, sea lions gather on both sandy and rocky shores. On warm days, they lie closer to the water. At night or in cool weather, they travel farther inland or higher up along the coast. . Non-breeding individuals may gather at marinas, wharves, or even navigational buoys. California sea lions can also live in fresh water for periods of time, such as near the Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River. 5

**Feeding **
California sea lions feed on a wide variety of seafood, mainly squid and fish, and sometimes clams. Commonly eaten fish and squid species include salmon, hake, Pacific whiting, anchovy, herring, rockfish, lamprey, dogfish, and market squid. They mostly forage near mainland coastlines, the continental shelf, and sea mounts. California sea lions may eat alone or in small to large groups, depending on the amount of food available. They sometimes cooperate with other predators, such as dolphins, porpoises, and seabirds, when hunting large schools of fish. Sea lions sometimes follow dolphins and exploit their hunting efforts. Adult females feed between 6.2 to 62 miles from shore, but males may forage as far as 280 miles from shore.5

California sea lions breed gregariously between May and August, when they arrive at their breeding rookeries. When establishing a territory, the males will try to increase their chances of reproducing by staying on the rookery for as long as possible. During this time, they will fast, relying on a thick layer of fat called blubber for energy. Size and patience allow a male to defend his territory more effectively; the bigger the male, the more blubber he can store and the longer he can wait. A male sea lion usually keeps his territory for around 27 days. Males do not establish their territories until after the females give birthThe animals tend to be more physically aggressive during this time. After this, the males rely on ritualized displays (vocalizations, head-shaking, stares, bluff lunges, and so on) to maintain their territorial boundaries. 5

Most pups are born in June or July and weigh 13 to 20 pounds. They nurse for at least five to six months and sometimes over a year. Mothers recognize pups on crowded rookeries through smell and vocalizations. Pups also learn to recognize the smell and vocalizations of their mothers. Breeding takes place a few weeks after birth. Males patrol territories and bark almost continuously during the breeding season. Most pups are weaned at 12 months of age. However, some pups continue to receive maternal care as yearlings and 2-3year olds. 1, 6

**Conservation Status**
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the California sea lion should remain classified as species of Least Concern due to its large and increasing population size. Exploitation during the 19th and 20th centuries caused population reductions. The distribution range has not changed since the exploitation era but population numbers have increased mainly in California where the population estimate is around 238,000. The population in Mexico occupies both side of the Baja California Peninsula: the west coast has an estimated population of 75,000 -87,000, whereas the Gulf of California population is near 30,000. The total population of California sea lions is therefore around 355,000 individuals. The population in California is reaching carrying capacity. 6

**References and Additional Information**
5. sea lion
7. Marine Mammals of the World ID guide, Jefferson, Leatherwood and Webber

Harbor Seal

**Scientific Name**
Phoca vitulina

The California Channel Islands play an important role in the life cycle of many large marine mammals that live along the west coast of North America.. Harbor seals, Phoca vitulina, can often be spotted on rocks near the water's edge with their head and flippers elevated in order to be warmed by the sun's rays. 4

**Quick and Cool Facts**
- Harbor seal pups can swim at birth and can dive for up to 2 minutes when they are only 2-3 days old. 3

- Harbor seals are estimated to reach an average lifespan of 40 years in the wild. In captivity, the longest recorded lifespan was 47.6 years. 2

- Harbor seals can dive to depths of 1400 feet and remain underwater for nearly 30 minutes without resurfacing.2

- Their sensitive whiskers acoustically detect sound waves, which is useful for catching prey. 2

- Contrasted to other pinnipeds, harbor seals are not sexually dimorphic;meaning that is no significant differences is size between females and males. 5

Pacific harbor seals have spotted coats in a variety of shades from white or silver-gray to black or dark brown. They reach five to six feet in length and weigh up to 300 pounds. They are true or crawling seals, having no external ear flaps. True seals have small flippers and must move on land by flopping along on their bellies.

Harbor seals are found north of the equator in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the Pacific, they range from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico.1 Harbor Seals are typically found near shore.They are found throughout the California Channel Islands including all five Islands in Channel Islands National Park.On San Miguel Island 1,100 harbor seals breed annually on Point Bennett, which is also an extraordinary haul out area for four other pinniped species.

They favor near-shore coastal waters and are often seen on islands, rocky coastlines, sandy beaches, mudflats, bays, and estuaries.They often choose to rest close to the water so they have quick access to the water in case of a threat. 1, 5

Harbor seals are carnivores that consume mostly fish. Despite regional variation in individual diets, the overarching goal of harbor seals is to keep foraging efforts low by eating what is abundant and easily caught. Adults eat mostly fish, consuming the fish whole or head first. Preferred medium-sized fish species include codfish, hake, mackerel, and herring. They also eat octopus or squid, as well as crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp. Because newly weaned pups have poorly developed diving abilities, their primary diet consists of crustaceans that are easier to catch. Harbor seals weighing about 220 pounds eat about 11 to 15 pounds of food per day. 2

In California, harbor seal pups are born between February and April and weigh about 20 to 24 pounds at birth. If born prematurely, harbor seals retain a whitish lanugo coat (which is usually lost before birth). A pup can swim at birth and will sometimes ride on its mother's back when tired. Pups make a bleating noise that sounds like "maaaa". After about four weeks, the pups are weaned. Adult females usually mate and give birth every year. 1

**Conservation Status**
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species considers the harbor seal to be a species of Least Concern. Spring brings harbor seal colonies to rookery beaches that are accessible to humans. Sometimes a pup and mother become separated due to disturbance by beachgoers. Unfortunately, this severely decreases the pup's chance for survival. The worldwide harbor seal population is estimated to be 500,000 individuals. The number estimated to live in California was 34,000 in 2009. 1

**References and Additional Information**
2. vitulina/
5. seals/facts.htm

Channel Islands National Park

Last updated: March 16, 2021