Sea lions are marine mammals that are predators in many ecosystems. They feed on mostly fish, cephalopods, clams, and other crustaceans, but are known to occasionally feed on other animals too.
Some species of sea lion can grow as large as 11-feet in length and weigh almost 2,500 pounds, making them much larger than the average penguin.
In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the sea lion’s diet and more specifically answer do sea lions eat penguins?
Yes, some large sea lions are known to prey on penguins when given the opportunity. Although fish and smaller marine vertebrates are the largest part of a sea lion’s diet, they do occasionally eat penguins too.
Do Sea Lions Really Eat Penguins?
South American sea lions largely feed on fish, but they have been observed attacking and killing Rockhopper and Gentoo penguins in Argentina, the Falkland Islands, and Chile.
Rockhopper penguins are incredibly small, often only around 55cm in length and weighing around 2.2kg, making an easy meal for the large South American sea lions.
Penguins rely on the ocean in order to feed their families, they go out and hunt for fish and bring it back to their chicks on land.
This is where sea lions have their opportunity to strike, as often hundreds of penguins swarm the ocean in search of food, and when they return, a hungry sea lion is guarding the shoreline.
Sea lions are intelligent animals that expend as little energy as possible in order to catch a meal, they act as a goalkeeper of the shoreline so that the penguins must get past them in order to reach safety.
Check out this footage of a huge sea lion preying on a penguin:
Why Do Sea Lions Eat Penguins?
Sea lions are opportunistic feeders that will take whatever they can get when it comes to food. When they come across a group of penguins trying to reach the shore, it’s a perfect opportunity for a meal for them.
Although sea lions mostly feed on fish, they are much larger than penguins and have the speed and agility to catch them in the water.
That said, once the penguin reaches land, it’s much harder for the sea lions to catch them despite their ability to walk across land themselves.
A meal is a meal for many marine mammals. Sea lions certainly won’t pass up the opportunity to prey on small penguins when given the chance.
Do Any Pinnipeds Eat Penguins?
It’s not only South American sea lions that prey on penguins, Leopard seals also have a taste for penguins when given the chance.
Leopard seals are large, predatory seals that have a nasty reputation. They are incredibly agile in the water and are armed with a set of long, sharp teeth.
They are incredibly smart animals that use fascinating tactics to hunt penguins. One of their favorites is to wait until juvenile penguins enter the water, as they know that they are inexperienced and have difficulty swimming.
Once in the water, they will strike, and pick up an easy defenseless meal without spending much energy at all.
Leopard seals are also ambush hunters that use the element of surprise to hunt penguins. They will hide under the surface and behind the ice, waiting until the penguins jump into the ocean in search of food.
They also wait until penguin abundance is at its greatest, for example, during the breeding season when the penguins have no choice but to enter the water to feed their young.
Leopard seals are among the most feared hunters in the icy Antarctic waters. They have even been known to kill humans that come too close or invade their space.
What Do Sea Lions Do To Penguins?
Once a sea lion catches a penguin, it may be able to eat it whole. However, if the penguin is too large, the sea lion will use its teeth in order to tear it into bite-size pieces.
One strange behavior that has been discovered is that sea lions will actually pin penguins down and try to mate with them.
This is thought to be due to the lack of sexual activity on the sea lions’ part, with them sometimes even killing the penguin after mating with it.
It’s a barbaric act of nature that has been observed with both seals and sea lions and has left scientists wondering what the reason behind it is.
Some believe it’s a lack of sexual activity, whilst some believe it is simply for fun. Either way, scientists say that it is becoming more and more common among sea lions and seals.
So, do sea lions eat penguins? Absolutely. These predators are opportunistic feeders that will take what they can get when it comes to a meal.
Although penguin isn’t a common source of food for many sea lions, they do eat them from time to time when given the chance.
Some species of sea lion dwarf many penguins and given that penguins need to enter the ocean in order to feed, they can often find themselves trying to escape from the jaws of a hungry sea lion.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you have learned something new today. If you have enjoyed this article, feel free to share it with others that may find it of value.
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Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years and I’ve spent decades learning and dedicating myself to documenting all I can about the topic.