Sea lions devouring sharks – even large sharks – captured in photos

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A California ecotour captain reminded social media followers Thursday that sea lions will prey on sharks and are not shy about going after reasonably large sharks.

“I’ve seen sea lions eat a lot of different things, but these two sharks take the cake for most interesting meal caught on my camera,” Ryan Lawler, of Newport Coastal Adventure, stated on Instagram.

“The first picture shows a horn shark, with its conspicuous dorsal spine going ignored by the sea lion. The second photo is right after a bull sea lion caught a thresher shark whose total length is easily longer than its predator.” (Viewers can swipe on the Instagram post to view both images.)

Lawler mentions a period in October 2015, when his passengers and crew witnessed multiple predation events involving sea lions and thresher sharks off Newport Beach.

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“And I have not seen it again since,” he wrote, explaining to FTW Outdoors that the Instagram photos are from 2017 (horn shark) and 2015. “Still waiting to witness the ultimate sea lion/shark take down, which would be a sea lion catching a white shark pup.”

Slater Moore Photography

In 2015, one of those predation events was captured in photos by Slater Moore, at the time a photographer for Davey’s Locker Sportfishing and Whale Watching in Newport Beach. (Two of Moore’s images accompany this post.)

After the encounter, Moore said, “I’ve never seen anything like it. We pulled up to a huge bird school with a sea lion finishing off the tail end of a thresher, and he drug it under and the we spun the boat around and all the birds were flying over to another sea lion with a brand new thresher, still alive.

“Then we leave and go to another live thresher under attack, and as we were leaving the captain saw another sea lion pop up with one!”

Slater Moore Photography

The largest shark measured at least 4 feet – a substantial meal for any pinniped.

Thresher sharks measure to about 15 feet. They boast small mouths and feed mainly on schooling bait fish, which they stun with scythe-like tail fins.

California sea lions, which can measure 8 feet and weigh as much as 800 pounds, are opportunistic feeders that prey predominantly on smaller fish and mollusks, but occasionally target sharks and rays.

Lawler alluded to great white shark pups. Southern California coastal waters are a nursing area for juvenile white sharks, which prey mostly on rays and bottom fishes. As adults, they prey on seals and sea lions.