The Falkland Islands are located in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf and lie some 300 miles east of South America’s southern Patagonian coast. In addition to the two main islands of East and West Falklands, 776 smaller islands are also contained in the archipelago. The Falklands are a British Overseas Territory, but they have internal self-governance with their own government, money, postage, and taxes. The United Kingdom provides for their national defense and foreign affairs. In 2012, the population was approximately 3,000 which primarily consisted of native-born Falkland Islanders, the majority of which were of British descent and all of the islanders are British citizens. Most of the population resides in East Falkland where the capital, Stanley, is located. The map below shows the islands and locations I visited (highlighted in yellow).
Southern Sea Lions at Bleaker Island
The southern sea lion is also called the South American Sea Lion and Patagonian Sea Lion. I was able to observe and photograph these sea lions at Bleaker Island in the Falklands during a recent photography workshop during November/December 2016. Watching the southern sea lions up-close and personal in their natural environment was truly one of the many exciting highlights of the workshop. The workshop was operated by NatureScapes and led by Greg Downing.
The southern sea lion is the classic example of what its name implies. Mature males have a very large head with a well-developed mane, making them the most lionesque of eared seals. They are literally twice the size and weight of the females with adult males growing over 9-feet and weighing almost 800 pounds. Southern sea lions normally live for about 20 years in the wild.
Southern sea lions prefer to breed on beaches made of sand, but are known to breed on gravel, rocky, or pebble beaches also. The beach in the Falklands where we found the sea lions was composed of both sand and large rocks. Southern sea lions consume numerous species of fishes, including hake and anchovies. In the Falklands, they primarily feed on cephalopods, such as shortfin squid, Patagonian squid, and octopus. In turn, the sea lions themselves are preyed upon by killer whales and sharks.
Female southern sea lions reach sexual maturity at 4–6 years and males at 5–6 years. However, males will not achieve territorial status until they are 9–10 years old. Mating occurs between August and December, and the pups are born between December and February. Males arrive first in order to establish and defend a territory. But, after the females arrive on scene, the males will spend most of their time defending them rather than the territory itself. A male will aggressively herd all of the females within his territory and then defend them from both neighbors and intruders. On rocky beaches (like in the Falklands), males establish territories where females go to cool off and the males will then keep them there until they are in estrus. Males are usually able to keep around 3 females in their harem, but some have as many as 18.
Southern sea lion mothers remain with their newborn pups for nearly a week before starting a routine of taking 3 day foraging trips and coming back to nurse their pups. They will act aggressively to other females that come close to their pups, as well as alien pups that try to get milk from them. Pups first enter the water at about 4 weeks and are weaned at about 12 months. This is the same time that the mother will normally give birth to a new pup. Pups will gradually spend more time in the nearshore surf and develop their swimming skills.