Saturday, 18 June 2016


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We recently went on holiday to Majorca and visited Marineland with little George.  He loved it of course, and we saw the dolphins, penguins and sharks.  But he especially loved the sea lions and seals, and was soon pointing out the differences between the two.

Seals and sea lions are both marine animals and in fact are second cousins. Along with the Walrus they are Pinnipeds (fin footed).  

They do look similar at first glance, with exception of their size.  But look a little closer and you will see some key differences in their appearance and behaviour.


True seals belong to the family group Phocidae, and are believed to have descended from a terrestrial weasel-like ancestor.  There are two seal species to be found, the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), and northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirotris).

Seals are smaller than sea lions, reaching a length of up to 6 feet and weighing 300 lbs. They are often seen bobbing in the surf, checking out the shoreline.

Harbour seals come in a variety of colours from almost pure white to mottled grey or brown, but usually some form of colour patterning is visible. Elephant seals, on the other hand, are uniformly tan coloured all over,

Seals lack visible the ear flaps present in sea lions.  Their hind flippers are fixed backwards, and unlike sea lions are not capable of rotating their hind flippers under their body.  This makes them faster in the water but slower on land, where they have to crawl along on their bellies using caterpillar like movements..

Seals are better adapted to living in water than they are on land, and are more agile and aquadymanic than sea lions. They live predominantly in the water and their thick blubber under the seal's skin helps to insulate the and maintain their body temperature.

Because seals are water based they are less social than their land based cousins, leading a solitary life and coming ashore together only once a year to mate.

Sea Lions

Sea Lions belong to the family group Otariidae (eared seals), which includes the fur seals
Their range extends from the subarctic to tropical waters of the global ocean in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with the notable exception of the northern Atlantic Ocean

Seal lions are larger than seals.   A male California sea lion weighs on average about 650 lbs and is up to 8 feet long.  Females are smaller, weighing 220 lb and 6 feet long. The largest sea lion is Steller's sea lion, which can weigh up to 2,200 lb and grow to a length of 10 feet.

Sea lions are sand brown in colour.They also have small ear flaps, which are lacking in seals.

Unlike seals they 'walk' on land using their front flippers, which are much larger than those of seals. This is because they can rotate their hind flippers forward and underneath their bodies. 

Sea lions are very social, congregating in large herds on land of up to 1500 individuals.

If you are in any doubt between seals and sea lions listens to their call; sea lions are very noisy, barking loudly whilst seals are quiet and squeal softly.

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