Having lived in both Monterey and San Diego, seals and sea lions are as common place along the coast as retirees with their little yappy white dogs. The most commons pinnipeds are California sea lions and harbor seals. Stellar sea lions and elephant seals were less common.
Here are some other fun facts about seals:
- A group of seals is called a herd or a raft.
- It’s not uncommon for a herd to consist of 1,500 seals.
- There are 33 species of seals.
- The layer of fat under a seal’s skin is called blubber, which helps keep them warm in cold water.
- Their whiskers help them detect prey in murky water.
- Their lifespan ranges from 25 to 30 years.
- Female seals are called cows, and their babies are called pups.
- Smaller seals weigh 100 pounds, while the largest seals weigh over 7,000 pounds.
Throughout the ages, men have hunted seals for their meat, blubber, and fur coats. Because of this, some species of seals are endangered. The four most endangered species of seals include Saimaa ringed seals of Finland, Ungava seals of Quebec, Mediterranean monk seals, and Hawaiian monk seals.
Both seals and sea lions, together with the walrus, are pinnipeds, which means “fin footed” in Latin.
But seals’ furry, generally stubby front feet — thinly webbed flippers, actually, with a claw on each small toe — seem petite in comparison to the mostly skin-covered, elongated fore flippers that sea lions possess.
Secondly, sea lions have small flaps for outer ears. The “earless” or “true” seals lack external ears altogether. You have to get very close to see the tiny holes on the sides of a seal’s sleek head.
Third, sea lions are noisy. Seals are quieter, vocalizing via soft grunts.
Fourth, while both species spend time both in and out of the water, seals are better adapted to live in the water than on land. Though their bodies can appear chubby, seals are generally smaller and more aquadynamic than sea lions. At the same time, their hind flippers angle backward and don’t rotate. This makes them fast in the water but basic belly crawlers on terra firma.
Sea lions, on the other hand, are able to “walk” on land by rotating their hind flippers forward and underneath their big bodies. This is why they are more likely to be employed in aquaria and marine shows.
Finally, seals are less social than their sea-lion cousins. They spend more time in the water than sea lions do and often lead solitary lives in the wild, coming ashore together only once a year to meet and mate.
Sea lions congregate in gregarious groups called herds or rafts that can reach upwards of 1,500 individuals. It’s common for scores of them to haul out together and loll about in the sand, comprising an amorphous pile in the noonday sun.