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Browse our Q&A about birds, eggs, nests, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals of the Central Coast and Channel Islands.

Partial Mystery Animal Skull found on beach on Santa Cruz Island

Hi there,

Came across this skull lying atop the rocks along the beach of Smugglers Cove on Santa Cruz Island earlier this month. My best guess is feral pig, but unsure... 

Eliot, Santa Barbara - October 15, 2023

Curator Response

Dear Eliot,

Thank you for sending us photos of the skull you found. For many reasons described in an earlier answer, we like seeing photos of items like this where they were found, and hopefully left in place.

Given the history of the island, I get where your guess is coming from. But this is definitely not from a pig. A female sea lion is more likely. I’m attaching photos of two skulls from our collection so you can make the comparison yourself.

On the skull you found, the nasal bones have broken off at the suture with the frontals. Compared to a feral pig's skull, the overall shapes of those bones (parietals, frontals, nasals) are very different. The variety of angles you can see in this 3D model of a feral pig’s skull illustrate what's probably the most dramatic difference: the steepness of slope of the pig's skull running along those bones. Sea lion skulls are far “flatter.”

Stay curious,

Dibblee Curator of Earth Science Jonathan Hoffman, Ph.D., and Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Krista Fahy, Ph.D.