Last week SciAm’s favorite podcaster and man-about-town Steve Mirsky, was back at it, behind the camera, checking out some old friends who’ve recently returned to the Bronx. You may remember Mirsky documented the return of the beaver to the Bronx last Spring. But this time it’s returning sea lions. With the re-opening of the historic Astor Court at the Bronx Zoo, the treasured sea lions also returned to their beloved pool, bordered by Beaux Arts buildings. For nearly two years they vacationed at the Brooklyn aquarium and now they’re back and ready to rumble. [watch video below] Lovely vignette, isn’t it? Forget any silly balancing of ball on nose, or clapping of flippers – these classy lions do what they do and it’s great. But I wondered, what’s really going on in this 40-second slice-o-life of the sea lion? I made a few calls. The big black barker is Kiani. He’s a six-year-old stud muffin brought in from Chicago. Big job for Kiani and he’s clearly excited. The little brown one is Indie, and the grey diver is Cleo. Here’s the scene: Kiani barks to stake his territory…this is how males in the wild protect their harem on wide beaches. Apparently the most successful mating occurs in water. So, when Cleo, being a flirty cow, dives in to the pool, we notice Kiani is beside himself, quite hopped up seeing young Cleo swimming. It’s almost as if he’s all fired up, but not sure what to do. Keep in mind, that’s me totally anthropomorphizing a barking sea lion. While Kiani is already three years into sexual maturity, he’s a little behind and a bit immature, said Danielle Hessel, wild animal keeper at the Bronx Zoo. Since he was raised on a breeding farm, surrounded by other bulls, he’s inexperienced with the ladies Hessel explained. It even shows in his physiology; he doesn’t have the secondary sex characteristics, plus he’s quite small. For now it doesn’t matter. Kiani has time to bully up, since the mating window is six months away, possibly in the first weeks of Spring. “It wouldn’t surprise us if we have pups next year,” said Hessel. SOME “DID YOU KNOWS” TO TAKE WITH YOU: * sea lions belong to the marine mammal group called pinnipeds (includes seals and walruses) * sea lions have teddy bear ears and big (useful) flippers which allow them to move fast, up to 20 mph on land. These are the features that distinguish them from seals, who have just holes for ears and small mitts for flippers and move like inch worms on land (for the record, I like seals…I swim with them every summer on the Northumberland Strait, where I grew up.) * Kiani, Cleo, Indie and Adrienne (not seen in video) eat up to 35 pounds of herring and capelin per day * sea lions have a wide range of habitat, from Mexico to British Columbia * sea lions help us fight “the terrorists” – according to the AP, the U.S. Navy recruited 25 sea lions for the Navy Special Clearance Team One, based in San Diego. In 2003 they were deployed in the Iraqi harbor of Umm Qasr, to find underwater mines, and clear a path so Marines could land. -- Edited by Christie Nicholson at 11/21/2007 11:29 AM