The endangered Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) is considered endemic to the Galápagos Islands, though individuals can be found occasionally on other small islands off the coast of Ecuador. They are one of only six mammals that can be found on land that are native to the Galápagos. Their social nature, boisterous bark and aquatic agility are qualities fascinating to tourists, and the species has come to be known as the “welcoming party” of the Galápagos. However, their playfulness leads to them coming into contact with introduced and invasive species, as well as fishermen. The Galápagos sea lion population declined by 60-65% from 1978 to 2001, and it is estimated further reductions have taken place since 2001. Impacts from El Niño events and infectious diseases continue to threaten the shrinking population in a more devastating manner than if the number of individuals was more robust. Feral dogs introduced to the islands are the source of some of the infectious diseases that have led to decreasing sea lion numbers on the islands, as diseases like canine distemper may be transmitted from dogs to sea lions. But the Galápagos Islands are an Ecuadorian National Park surrounded by a marine resources reserve. Tourism and fishing are controlled to protect wildlife, including Galápagos sea lions, and there is now a quarantine system in place for the introduction of domestic animals from the mainland. The Galápagos National Park is working to decrease threats to sea lions and foster effective conservation programs.
Photo and haiku: Samantha Oester