This fierce creature has the forebody of a great cat, with two powerful, clawed legs under a threatening mouth of sharp claws. Colorful fins cover its back and torso, leading to a sleek tail, like that of a great fish.
Speed 10 ft., swim 40 ft.
Environment any water
Organization solitary, pair, or pride (3–15)
The feral sea cat (sometimes referred to as the sea lion, sea tiger, or sea leopard) is among the most vicious and ubiquitous of coastal predators in the world's tropical oceans. The upper body of a sea cat is that of a typical large cat—be it a lion, tiger, leopard, or cheetah—complete with a pair of clawed paws capable of rending the flesh from its prey. In place of back legs, however, the sea cat has a sleek and powerful tail that allows it to move quickly and silently through the water. While only the back half of a sea cat looks fish-like, its entire body from the neck down is covered in fine scales and fins, making it a formidable swimmer. Among individual sea cats, these scales vary greatly in color and pattern, often influenced by the primary habitat of a given specimen; most sea cats, however, have bright coloration in striped or spotted patterns. The typical sea cat is 12 feet long and weighs upward of 800 pounds.
Unlike many aquatic animals, sea cats can survive in both fresh and salt water and in any subarctic climate, though they prefer warm seas to temperate lakes or rivers. Sea cats rely on speed and ferocity in the hunt, and are thus not built to withstand extreme cold, as they lacks fur or fat to insulate them in frigid waters. Most sea cats live in the ocean, where the diversity of life allows for a varied and consistent supply of food, though prides of sea cats and particularly adventurous individuals of the species have been known to follow prey into river deltas and beyond to inland lakes if pickings become slim in the sea.
A sea cat's diet consists of small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic mammals such as seals and otters, but the creature's overpowering predatory and territorial instincts often lead it to attack ocean birds, humanoids, and even other aquatic predators such as sharks and crocodiles. Coastal fishermen in areas where sea cats are known to dwell vigilantly look out for the predators, because the beasts have learned that netted or hooked prey is easier to kill and steal from the line, using less energy. As if the theft of a hard-earned catch weren't enough to keep anglers on guard, a sea cat that finds itself unsated by a net of fish or a trapped crab will often turn its sights on the other end of the fishing line and attack the very fisherman who helped it gain its meal.
When not hunting, sea cats can be found on coastal rocks, coral islands, or even isolated beaches sunning themselves and digesting their most recent meals. When in a state of rest, sea cats are typically less alert and more vulnerable, and thus often lounge in pairs or larger groups so that one can act as lookout. This is especially true of mothers rearing cubs, which have been known to stay awake for as long as a week straight to allow their young rest in their most vulnerable time of life.
Sea cats are ferocious hunters and when taken by the primal urge to fight, do so to the death, with little regard for anything but their prey. Whether hunting or protecting its territory, a sea cat generally attacks immediately upon discovering a target, even when faced with a much larger or more dangerous foe. A sea cat uses its claws and bite frantically, only ceasing its assault when the target is dead. If faced with multiple opponents, a sea cat attacks the nearest target and single-mindedly fights until that creature is dead. Pairs or prides of sea cats use pack tactics when hunting or defending their territories, wearing opponents down until a single beast can dispatch it, often allowing those of the larger group to escape while the entire pack focuses on a single target.
A sea cat's physical characteristics are as much a product of the animal's environment as they are a result of genetics, and a sea cat's coloration often directly mimics its habitat. Sea cats living among colorful coral or particularly vibrant vegetation are often marked with spots and stripes of vivid red, orange, violet, and yellow, while those specimens on rocky or sandy beaches take on more earthy tones and mottled patterns.
Sea cats are born in litters of between one and six cubs, and mothers raise their young in isolation from the rest of a pride until the young are between 6 and 9 months in age. During this time, the mother teaches the young to hunt, mark their territory, and defend themselves against intruders. When a litter of sea cats reaches maturity, their sea cat mother simply abandons them and returns to her pride, leaving the young to fend for themselves. Some young find their way back to the pride and are quickly assimilated into the group, while others form new prides centered around the location where their mothers abandoned them.
A pride typically consists of a single male (called a bull) and as many as a dozen mature females who do a majority of the hunting and defending of the territory. Males without a pride of their own remain solitary hunters and are called stags. Each year, at mating season, stags approach a pride's territory and attempt to lure females away from the rest of the group as the females keep vigil over the pride's territory. When a male has a single female isolated, the two battle with all the ferocity of their species. Whichever sea cat has the upper hand relents in the last moment before killing its foe as a sign of acceptance of the mating offer, and if the other sea cat remains peaceful and does not use the moment of hesitation as an opportunity for counterstrike, the courtship dance is considered a success.
Occasionally, a particularly willful stag encroaches on a bull's territory in an attempt to wrest his pride from him. In these cases, all females abandon the males to their duel, returning the following day and taking up loyalty to whichever male remains alive. The typical pride changes leaders once or twice a year, while more volatile prides see a change in leadership as often as five or six times annually.
A sea cat's territory generally extends between 2 and 5 miles from its den, though most sea cats patrol only as far as a mile or two from the shore. Since a sea cat can't breathe water and must come up for air, only the bravest or most foolhardy sea cats venture farther than 2 miles from land, meaning a creature wishing to bypass a sea cat's territory can often go around it by traveling farther out to sea than the cat itself is willing to swim to protect its realm. A sea cat releases a powerful pheromone into the water to mark the boundaries of its territory, and thus must trace the borders every day or two in order to maintain them, as the constant flow of water dilutes the scent to the point of ineffectuality within 4 days depending on the strength of currents and tidal and weather conditions.
The sea cat's generally low intelligence and high level of ferocity makes it incredibly difficult to train or domesticate, but merfolk, aquatic elves, locathahs, and even surface-dwelling pirates and sailors have occasionally been known to take a cub and raise it as a pet. Whether these are simply legends meant to frighten away potential enemies or true accounts of taming a sea cat are not widely known, but the sea cat's natural territorial instincts make it a formidable guardian if properly trained. Additionally, some pirate ports are known for capturing sea cats and pitting them against one another for sport.