October 1, 1978 – November 30, 2009

National Zoo
3001 Connecticut Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Beaver Valley

This exhibition is home to one species of pinnipeds: gray seals. Gray seals vary from blackish with white specks and splotches to whitish with black markings; males are generally darker than females. Males weigh from 375 to 800 pounds, while females weigh between 220 and 572 pounds. Males have wrinkled necks, thicker necks and shoulders, and longer, broader, more rounded snouts than females. Gray seals eat a wide variety of fish, squid, octopus, and crustaceans such as shrimp; sometimes they eat a seabird or two. Gray seals congregate in large groups for breeding, pupping, and molting. During the 4- to 6-week-long breeding period, neither males nor females eat, drawing from their fat (blubber) for nutrition. They also gather in small groups to rest on land. But when it comes to finding food, gray seals dive alone or in small groups.

Male California sea lions are dark grayish or chocolate brown, while females are lighter brown. Weighing as little as 13 pounds at birth, the male can weigh as much as 1,000 pounds and the female 250 pounds when fully grown. They have external ear flaps, large eyes, and 40 to 60 whiskers. Their hind flippers are shorter than the front flippers. They eat a wide variety of fish, squid, and octopus. On land, sea lions gather in large groups (as many as 1,000 individuals) and may lie near and on top of each other. In the water, they may float on the surface in small groups called rafts. Younger sea lions, more playful than adults, ride the surf and chase each other.