Weekend Science Fun: Steller Sea Lions

Today let’s use the recently released book  Astro: The Steller Sea Lion
by Jeanne Walker Harvey and Illustrated by Shennen Bersani to explore an interesting sea mammal. Astro-the-steller-sea-lion

Astro, who was orphaned at birth and raised by humans, has become an ambassador for his species. If we could interview Astro, here’s what he might have to say:


Interviewer (from now on in bold): Can you start by you telling our audience what kind of animal you are?

Astro (plain text):  I am a Steller sea lion.

Does that mean you are stellar, like a star?

No, my species is named for Mr. George Wilhelm Steller, a famous explorer and naturalist who discovered us in Alaska in 1741.

I have been to California and seen California sea lions, are you one of those?

No, my species tends to be larger and lighter colored. We are also much less common. In fact, those of us that live along the eastern Pacific coasts are threatened, and those along the western Pacific coasts are endangered.

What does that mean?

It means that if people aren’t careful we could go the way of the Steller’s sea cow.

What is a Steller’s sea cow? I’ve never heard of it.

The Steller’s sea cow was another sea mammal named by Mr. Steller in 1741. They looked sort of like the manatees now found in Florida. They were gentle plant-eating giants. Because the sea cows were good to eat, they were extinct only 27 years after Mr. Steller found them.

Yikes, that is sad. Hope that doesn’t happen to your species.

With luck, this new book will help inform many people about us.

Tell me about “your” new book.

Jeanne Walker Harvey has written the story of my life up to now. She explains how I was orphaned at birth on an island off the coast of California. A scientist found me and took me to the Marine Mammal  Center. The humans took really good care of me. In fact, whenever they tried to send me back to the wild, I just kept coming back to them. Finally, they found a home for me at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, where I live now.

And you know the best part?

What’s that?

Jeanne is donating a percentage of the royalties from the book to both the Marine Mammal Center and to Mystic Aquarium.  Think of all the sea creatures like me that will help.

Anything else about the book?

What I want to know is how Shennen Bersani did those fantastic illustrations. She always shows my best side.

Hey, I thought I was asking the questions.

Didn’t you write to her?

Yes, I asked her how she made the illustrations and here’s what she said:

I’ve been using colored pencils for a long time, I’ve even taught classes and workshops on their use… so most of what you see in Astro is colored pencil on Arches watercolor paper, with a splash of acrylic paint.”

How are the colored pencils so rich? They look like photographs, only much more luminescent.

Layers!  Layer upon layer of pencil is used with a ‘toothy’ paper.  Layers are the best way to explain it.  Does that explanation help?  I use a graphite pencil, nothing fancy there, to draw out the image on the Arches.  (You can see some of my actual sketches turned into coloring pages on the Sylvan Dell website under Astro Teaching Activities.)  Then I color them in with the colored pencils, and highlight some areas with acrylic paint.

Many of the people look like my real friends. How did she do that?

About the models, Shennen Bersani said:

I traveled cross-country to step in Astro’s, umm flippers.  I met with some of the actual people who worked with Astro – and included likenesses of them when possible. I also had fun including my family members, friends, neighbors, and myself.

Isn’t that fun? We should tell the children in the audience to check out Shennen Bersani’s picture in the back of the book and on her website, and then look for her in the illustrations. It will be our little secret.

Would you tell her that I appreciate all her hard work?

I think she knows. So, Astro, do you think there will be a sequel to your book?

Actually, I was thinking I’d make a great movie star!


If you are interested in using this book as a teaching tool, visit Sylvan Dell Publishing’s Astro page for Teaching Activities in the form of a .pdf booklet.

Check out how you can use zoo or aquarium observations as a science project at Dragonfly TV.

The Sea World Education Department has downloadable .pdf teacher’s guides on Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses (scroll down page for links), as well as other ocean-related topics.

Have you ever seen the California sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco, California?


The California Academy of Sciences has a video that explains why their numbers have recently decreased and also why tagging certain individuals gives us useful information.

And here’s a video of Astro in action. I think he’s right, he would make a great movie star.

Disclosure: The book was provided for review. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


  1. Mike B.

    Great post- my sons and I watched the video. We were wondering about the name- we just posted yesterday about Steller’s Jays. Sure enough- they are both named after the same explorer!

  2. Roberta

    Yes, they are named for the same explorer. What a coincidence.

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