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There are in total 33 species of sea mammals in Peru., ranging from the small otters which live amongst the rocks along inaccessible beaches to the huge whales which frolic in the open sea. Scientists have classified them in nine families, the largest of which are the otarids (sea lions) and delphinids (dolphins).
The most commonly-spotted mammals along the Peruvian coast are the sea lions. Two different species share the coastline lapped by the cold Humboldt sea current: the droll sea lion (Otaria byronia), which can weigh up to 300 kg and which prefer sandy beaches, and fine sea lions (Arctocephalus australis), with a slimmer body and which tend to gather in the rocky outcrops and inaccessible cliffs that litter the coastline. Both species reproduce from November to March, which are ideal months for observation.
The best places for spotting sea lions is along the south coast: the National Paracas Reserve, in the department of Ica, features major sea lion colonies on the Ballestas Islands, Punta Arquillo and Morro Quemado, which gather the largest number of sea lions anywhere in the country.
The same area is a refuge for the elusive marine wildcat and the chingungo, a beaver that lives amongst the rocks and rarely-visited beaches of the central coast and south of Peru. The beaches of Mendieta and La Catedral are home to the largest population of this species, currently on the endangered list.
A little further south lies Punta San Juan, a reserved zone established to protect the nesting grounds for guano birds, Humboldt penguins and a large colony of sea lions.
Cetaceans, meanwhile, are also commonly found in Peruvian waters. Various species of dolphins such as the bottle-nosed or common dolphin, as well as marsopas are habitual residents of the shallow waters of the coastline.
All species of cetaceans in Peru are protected by law. Fishing, consumption and trading of products derived from dolphins is strictly prohibited.
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