Sea Lion Caves – Connected System of Sea Caves and Caverns
Sea Lion Caves are a connected system of sea caves and caverns open to the Pacific Ocean in the U.S. state of Oregon. There are located 11 miles north of Florence and 400 miles Oregon Coast. In this region area Highway 101 follows a steep and undeveloped seascape 300 feet above sea level.
Lichens, algae, and mineral stains cover the cavern walls with greens, pinks, purples, buffs, and reds on the rough surfaces, a few of which are named Lincoln’s Head, the Indian Maiden, and The Goddess of Liberty. Local seaman, Captain Willian Cox, discovered Sea Lion Caves in 1880, which entered the grotto through the western channel in a small boat on a calm day.
He reportedly returned to explore the caves a number of times and on one occasion was marooned for several days because of stormy weather and uneven Ocean. William Cox reportedly sustained himself by shooting a young sea lion and eating the meat of its flippers. Irrespective of the incident’s authenticity, it is established that Captain Cox purchased the land in 1887 from the State of Oregon. His family owned the property until 1926.
However, human access to the caves is through a gift shop building. The cave system is at sea level and the ocean constantly washes into the main cavern which has a floor area of about 2 acres and a vaulted rock dome about 125 feet high. Thus, southward from the main chamber, a low passage runs 1,000 feet to a sea-level opening.
This corridor is flooded at high tide and free of water at low tide, and the western entrance is a short, high passage through which the ocean washes at all tide levels. At the north, a third entrance is about 50 feet above the ocean which serves as an elevated observation area where the entire underground cave system and its wildlife are visible.
The sea level portion of this cave and the sea cliff rocks just outside the cave have become, over the centuries, the only known mainland rookery and hauling area of the Steller’s sea lion and to a lesser extent the California sea lion. The high vault is a natural resting place for seabirds.
Therefore, myriad birds (such as the pigeon guillemot, Brandt’s cormorant, western, herring, and California gulls, tufted puffins, and the occasional hawk or bald eagle) construct their home at or near the Sea Lion Caves is one of the great sea grottoes of the world, comparable in size and coloration to the famed Blue Grotto in the Mediterranean.
The whale watching deck, located below the gift shop, permits a seaward view of about 20 miles. The deck is at an elevation of 300 feet, making it a widespread whale-watching post. Because typically, orcas are seen migrating once a year past the Sea Lion Caves, whereas the gray whale is seen anywhere from a few months to all year long.
Moreover, small groups end their migration in the close vicinity, feeding very close to the shore. Furthermore, Sea Lion Caves was awarded the 2012 Eugene, Cascades, and Coast Enrichment Award. This famed Oregon coast magnetism was recognized for welcoming and serving thousands of annual visitors over the past 80 years.
Access to the caves from the hillside above was not even considered until the specific intention of opening the caves as a business. In 1930, when it became probable that U.S. Route 101 would be completed going past the site. A 1,500-foot-long trail was excavated by hand into the face of the cliff.
At the bottom, a 135-step wooden tower was extended down to the north entrance of the caves. Despite the difficulty and danger of the construction, the trail and stairs provided safe access for visitors and the Sea Lion Caves opened to the public in August 1932.
The traffic was light at first. However, word of the attraction spread, and the number of people visiting the Sea Lion Caves slowly grew until 1942 when virtually all recreational travel halted due to World War. In 1961, the addition of an elevator resulted in a sharp rise in the number of visitors. The elevator took three years to build, but by June 1961, has a capacity of 23 passengers and travels 208 feet at 250 feet per minute. It can accommodate 400 people per hour.