Sea lions are playful, curious, smart, and of course, a bit silly. These adorable marine mammals are best known for their agility in the water, their loud “barks” that sound similar to dogs, and their ability to learn complex behaviors in human care. In this listing, we’re counting down the most impressive, educational, and enriching sea lions habitats in the world.
10.) Pacific Point Preserve: Seaworld San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Opened in 2015, Pacific Point Preserve is designed to look like a coastal town on the Pacific Ocean. This new exhibit made it’s debut along with a new show featuring California sea lions and Asian small-clawed otters. Included in the exhibit are rocks for the animals to climb on, dive off, and sunbathe on along with several viewing areas both above and level with the exhibit, Pacific Point has become a favorite among visitors to the park. Educational signage is posted around the exhibit and there is a place to view adorable otters! Guests also have the opportunity to feed fish to the animals and even purchase an unforgettable swim with a California sea lion.
9.) Sea Lion Cove: Dublin Zoo, Dublin, Ireland
Also opened in 2015, Sea Lion Cove at the Dublin Zoo is a state of the art facility for sea lion conservation and husbandry. Complete with a large underwater viewing area, this exhibit is part of the largest project in recent history at the Dublin Zoo. The exhibit is home to California sea lions, and like Pacific Point Preserve, includes rocks and ledges for the animals to exhibit natural behaviors such as diving and sunbathing. The enclosure area sits where a lake used to be, which made the construction of it challenging. The difficulties were well worth it, as this sea lion exhibit is one of the most visited in Europe and delights visitors.
8.) Aqua Park: Nuremberg Zoo, Nuremberg, Germany
Aqua Park is a very unique area in that it is actually home to 4 different animals: otters, sea lions, penguins, and polar bears. Renovated in 2001, the exhibits for the penguins and sea lions became two of the largest exhibits of any kind in all of Europe. The sea lion enclosure now boasts over 5,300 sq. ft. of land and over 9,000 sq. ft. of 11 ft deep water. With rocks in the middle for sunbathing, plenty of areas for guest viewing, and educational information all around, this sea lion exhibit is among the best in Europe.
7.) California Sea Lions, Zoo Opole, Opole, Poland
Home to the popular California sea lion, this exhibit at the Opole Zoo features a spacious pool, an island for trainers to work with the animals, and a slide-out area for the sea lions to come out of the water. Guests can get a great look at the animals with viewing access above the exhibit almost all the way around. This enclosure also has underwater viewing and trainer presentations throughout the day.
6.) Rocky Shores, Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City, UT
Among the largest areas in the zoo’s history, Rocky Shores is a multi-species realm of the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City. Home to California sea lions and harbor seals, visitors can catch a glimpse of them through underwater viewing areas, learn more about them through educational technology, and watch keeper presentations about conservation and care of sea lions. Designed as a hyper-realistic recreation of the Pacific shores and forests, the zoo says that Rocky Shores has dramatically changed the way that visitors learn about and view the animals.
5.) American Trail, Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Washington, DC
As the national zoo of America, Smithsonian takes great pride in providing both its animals and visitors with world class animal habitats. American Trail does a magnificent job of showcasing the beauties of America and its wildlife through pristine exhibits and realistic accents. What makes the 300,000 gallon California sea lion habitat unique is that it features a wave maker to provide the animals with a realistic enclosure and give visitors a view of how sea lions appear in the wild. Topped off with both underwater and above water viewing areas, the American Trail is a must see at the National Zoo.
4.) Pacific Pier, Ocean Park Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Perhaps one of the best sea lion exhibits in Asia, Pacific Pier at Ocean Park finds its way onto this list based on its size, enrichment opportunities, and number of spaces for the animals to climb, slide, and sunbathe on (and it is AZA accredited!). This exhibit also includes a wave maker. Like others on this list, the exhibit is designed to look like the coasts of California, a great way to teach those who live in China about the ecosystems of North America.
3.) Helmerich Sea Lion Cove, Tulsa Zoo, Tulsa, OK
Home to several rescued sea lions, Sea Lion Cove is a great home for sea lions that cannot go back to the wild. Throughout the exhibit, the animals have plenty of enrichment, which includes enrichment devices, caves, holes, cliffs, flat rocks, and shady spots. The main pool is 100,000 gallons and includes a waterfall. Another public area features underwater viewing and seats for visitors to watch training demonstrations. Finally, the themed buildings behind the main rock house spacious holding facilities and work spaces for food prep and husbandry.
2.) Sea Lion Landing, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, SC
Said to be one of the best sea lion exhibits in America, Sea Lion Landing is a 250,000 gallon exhibit with indoor and outdoor viewing areas, circular and overhead underwater viewing, an amphitheater, and above water viewing. Accented by rocks, themed holding buildings, and docks, visitors have a fun and engaging experience when exploring Sea Lion Landing. Sea Lion Landing was part of a $36 million expansion of the zoo and has brought rave reviews.
1.) Sea Lion Sound, St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, MO
At 1.5 acres, Sea Lion Sound is a large, advanced, and completely immersive exhibit, and because of this, makes it to number one! Commonly seen in aquariums featuring sharks and fish but uncommonly seen with sea lions, Sea Lion Sound’s feature element is the 35 foot long Holekamp Aqua Tunnel. This tunnel surrounds guests with underwater views of agile and playful California sea lions as they walk through. The 250,000 tank is filtered by an environmentally friendly filtration system that saves over 11 million gallons of water every year. The back buildings are home to the Sea Lion Care Center where trainers and veterinarians care for the animals off exhibit. The main pool gradually gets deeper so that at one end, the animals can sunbathe, and at the other, they can dive and play in the water. This amazing exhibit is the perfect way to get a complete look at the lives and abilities of sea lions.
The ranking of these exhibits was based on educational content, animal enrichment, and uniqueness. These 10 exhibits are some of the best places in the world that you can go to get an amazing look into the curious world of sea lions!