Our study examined the behavioral differences of the Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) in relation to human presence. Our main goal was to determine whether sea lions would be more aggressive as a result of high frequencies of human exposure. We hypothesized that sea lions would behave differently in relation to varying rates of human exposure and we predicted that there would be more aggressive and interactive behaviors on beaches with higher frequencies of human exposure (as the humans may disturb the normal behavioral patterns of the sea lions). Data was collected daily at low tide in two-hour intervals. Our study took place during July 2014 on Isla San Cristóbal on three beaches near Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. We recorded the number of people and sea lions on each beach during each data collection, as well as any observed behavioral characteristics of sea lions. We categorized behavioral characteristics of sea lions as aggressive, interactive but non-aggressive, and non-interactive both on terrestrial and aquatic environments. In addition, we accounted for the frequency of interactions in relation to the size of the beach in which data was collected. Results from a Chi-squared goodness of fit test showed that there was a significant difference in the sea lions’ behavior in relation to human exposure (p < 0.0001). Further analysis showed that sea lions tend to be more aggressive in response to higher frequencies of human exposure (p < 0.0001). Previous studies have shown that high rates of human exposure in sea lion habitats can result in a decrease of sea lion populations (French et al., 2011). With regards to these results, there should be a consideration for how human exposure can affect the behavior of sea lions. Tourism in the Galápagos Islands remains prevalent, which can potentially disrupt the natural behavior of protected species if humans disrupt the animals’ natural behavior.
Marcy Wilhelm-South super-administrator
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