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Orange County’s Extinct Sea Lion

Jorge Velez-Juarbe describes Eotaria citrica, a new species of extinct sea lion

Orange County’s Extinct Sea Lion

Southern California is home not just to today’s harbor seals and California sea lions, but also a rich fossil record of pinnipeds – the family that includes seals, sea lions, and walruses. In the last 30 million years, over 25 species of pinnipeds have called this area home. Fossils found throughout the Southland have shed light on the evolution of this group of marine mammals, including how they gradually increased in body size over time up until about 2 million years ago, when walruses were the mainstay on prehistoric California beaches.

The fossilized remains of Eotaria citrica, a left jaw with all its teeth, shown from three different perspectives.

There is a new addition to this lineage of marine mammals, and it’s one of the oldest ones.

Meet Eotaria citrica. This 5-foot-long sea lion lived 15 million years ago in the middle of the Miocene Epoch — a time when North American was home to rhinos, camels, and bone-crushing dogs.

Jorge Velez-Juarbe, the Museum’s Assistant Curator of Marine Mammals, described this new species from teeth and jaw bones excavated in the Santa Ana Mountains, naming it citrica as a nod to the citrus tree namesake of Orange County. “I knew it was something different once I saw it,” said Velez-Juarbe.

The Topanga Formation where it was found is home to several other species of extinct sea lions and walruses, including the oldest records of modern pinniped lineages in California dating back 15-17 million years. These represent the oldest relatives of today’s sea lions, furs seals, and walruses.

The sea lions in the NHMLA North American Mammal Hall are some of Eotaria citrica’s relatives.


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