Seals vs. Sea Lions

Dec 22, 2015

Do you think you know the difference between a seal and a sea lion? What key characteristics would you look for to tell them apart?

Our seals and sea lions are fin-footed carnivorous marine mammals within the suborder Pinnipedia (meaning “wing-foot” or “feather-foot”). This suborder, which includes Seals (Family: Phocids), Sea Lions (Family: Otariids) and Walruses (Family: Odobenidae), have the widest distribution of any other suborder and inhabit all the oceans. Pinnipeds main sources of food are fish and squid, however some will eat mollusks, crustaceans and much larger prey.

So how can you tell them apart?

There are a couple of noticeable differences between Seals and Sea Lions. When I am differentiating between the two, I focus on two characteristics: their flippers and their ears.

The forelimbs of sea lions are longer and more developed than those of seals. They use them to move through the water and to prop themselves up and move quickly on land. Another noticeable characteristic is that their hind flippers can rotate forward. In contrast, a seal uses its hind flippers when propelling through the water, cannot prop themselves up, are awkward when moving on land, and cannot rotate their hind flippers forward.

Another way to differentiate between the two would be by observing their ears. Sea lions have external ear flaps where true seals do not. This is not something you would see unless you were standing over a dead individual or you had binoculars. Never go up to a seal or sea lion to see if it has ear flaps or not, I promise you, it will not end well.

Below you can see some other characteristic differences between the two species:

Now that you have all the information do you think you can tell them apart?

Head to Katie's blog post to see if you can correctly identify them!