Look at this cheeky sea lion.
What makes me think it’s a sealion vs seal? Well, although at first glance they look very similar, there are actually quite a few differences between sea lions and seals. Four are fairly easy to see…
What’s the difference between sea lions and seals?
Probably the most obvious is the front flipper: sea lions have long, hairless, front flippers with short nails whereas seals have shorter, fur-covered front flippers with long claws. This means the two animals swim very differently. Sea lions use their front flippers to propel themselves along underwater, but a seal’s propulsion comes from its rear flippers, while it uses its front flippers to steer.
Second are the earflaps: sea lions have visible ear flaps, while seals just have ear holes.
Third are the rear flippers and the way the animals get around on land. Sea lions can rotate their hind flippers to face forward, which enables them to walk on land. Seals’ hind flippers, on the other hand, remain pointing straight backwards when they’re on land. Rather than walking, they move in a slightly clumsy, forward-rolling motion, bouncing along on their bellies.
Finally are the whiskers. Sea lion whiskers are smooth, whereas most seal whiskers are beaded or crimped.
Here’s a little chart to keep things simple:
|Long smooth front flippers with small claws||Short, hairy front flippers with long claws|
|Walk on land with hindflippers rotated forwards||Bounce along on belly to move on land (hind flippers straight out)|
|When swimming, propel themselves using front flippers||When swimming, propel themselves using hind flippers|
|Long smooth whiskers||Crimped or beaded whiskers|
So what’s the difference between sea lions and fur seals?
Actually there isn’t much. Most seals belong to the family Phocidae, or ‘true seals’. They are adapted to life in the water. Sea lions and fur seals belong to the family Otariidae, or ‘eared seals’, so called because of their external ear-flaps. Due to their ability to rotate their hind flippers forwards, fur seals and sea lions are better adapted to a life on land. The males have a thickened area of fur about the neck (hence the allusion to lions). The animals you sea performing at Sea World and the like will almost certainly be sea lions.
If I had to make a guess, I’d say the animal snatching this fisherman’s prized dorado is probably a California sea lion, but I’m happy to be corrected!
[Image courtesy of seaworld.org.]