Steller sea lions were once abundant throughout the North Pacific, and Indigenous peoples and settlers used them for meat, hides, and oil. The Western distinct population segment is endangered, while the Eastern population has recovered and is no longer listed.
Steller sea lions are the largest of the “eared seals,” with males weighing up to 2,500 pounds. These marine mammals consume more than 100 different species of fish and cephalopods.
The places where they eat, rest, and have their pups often overlap with human activities, which can lead to conflicts, especially when humans feed sea lions. Factors such as climate change and reduced prey resources can cause sea lions to have a harder time finding natural prey and they may venture into harbors in search of food. When people deliberately feed sea lions or leave fish pieces or carcasses where sea lions can easily reach them, sea lions may choose to stick around. For their safety and yours, please do not feed Steller sea lions.
Human-Sea Lion Interaction Causes Trouble
Feeding, or attempting to feed, Steller sea lions (or any marine mammal) is illegal. It can result in habituation, aggression, negative impacts to fisheries, entanglement, injury, and death. Whether feeding is intentional or unintentional, Steller sea lions become less cautious of people, associating them with food. This can result in dangerous and unpredictable behavior towards people. The natural behaviors of sea lions shift, decreasing their willingness to find their own food. It also increases chances they will steal fish (and inadvertently gear) from fishermen, potentially injuring themselves or fishermen in the process. These behavioral changes increase their risk of injury from boats, fishing gear entanglement, and intentional harm by people aggravated by these changes.
Harassment of marine mammals in the wild is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Be the Solution, not the Problem
NOAA encourages everyone to adopt the following measures:
- First and foremost, DO NOT FEED SEA LIONS (or any wildlife)
- Educate others about the negative impacts of feeding sea lions and discourage the practice when possible
- Encourage a “no feeding” policy in your community
- Eliminate food sources by keeping docks, fish cleaning stations, and boats clean—do not leave whole fish or discarded remains where sea lions can reach them
- Report any feeding or harassment violations or if a sea lion is placing the public at physical risk to the 24/7 NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964 and be sure to include location, time, date, and description and, if applicable, name(s) of the vessel, owner/operator, captain, crew, or additional witnesses
- Report sea lion (or other marine mammal) injury, death, or entanglements in fishing gear or marine debris to NOAA’s Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network 24-hour hotline at (877) 925-7773. Include the date, location, and type of entanglement. If possible, take photos from different sides of the animal as long as you stay at least 300 feet away. It may be possible to send in a trained response team to disentangle the animal if reports are sent in real time.
We can all be a part of the solution to reduce Steller sea lion-human conflicts. It starts with our own behavior. We can increase the safety of all Alaskans and Steller sea lions by remembering to “take the lead, do not feed”!