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The California Sea Lion: Thriving in a Human-Dominated World

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Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Otariids and the Odobenid

Abstract

California sea lions offer an important case study of a species that has successfully adapted and thrived in a human-dominated world. The recovery of California sea lion populations over the past four decades is a conservation success story. Unfortunately, their recovery has put them in direct conflict with human activities resulting in new management challenges in the regions where they occur. Here, we review the role of learning in California sea lions and their capacity to tolerate and successfully capture prey from commercial or recreational fishing lines or salmon at dams. Learning underlies tolerance to novel human-related stimuli, locating novel foraging resources, and responding to environmental change. According to modern animal learning theory, there are basic mechanisms, or types of experiences underlying animal learning. The simplest learning process of habituation is non-associative because it involves an individual’s experience with a single stimulus, whereas complex associative learning mechanisms elicit changes in behavior as a result of experience with two stimuli or stimulus and response. We focus on these fundamental associative and non-associative learning mechanisms in California sea lions which could be used to manage wildlife-human conflicts involving otariids. For instance, understanding what kinds of stimuli California sea lions respond to and learn from, or how social factors influence learning processes, are all important parameters that can be used by managers for modifying animal behavior. Lessons from both human-tolerant species and those in conflict could inform best practices for ensuring human-wildlife coexistence in a human-dominated environment will be enhanced with lessons from both human-tolerant species as well as those that do not do well with humans.

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Acknowledgments

Illustrations are by Jacqui Fenner, ECS Federal, under contract to the Office of Science and Technology, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We are indebted to Ken Franke and the Everingham Brothers Bait Co. for allowing testing to occur from bait docks. Our California sea lion empirical work was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a grant from the California Sportfishing Association.

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Correspondence to Zachary A. Schakner .

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Schakner, Z.A., Blumstein, D.T. (2021). The California Sea Lion: Thriving in a Human-Dominated World. In: Campagna, C., Harcourt, R. (eds) Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Otariids and the Odobenid. Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Marine Mammals. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-59184-7_18

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