What’s the difference between a seal and a sea lion?


Thank you to our Nature Network partners, UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit (MMRU) & & Ocean Pollution Research Unit (OPRU), for sharing this month’s blog site.

Seals and sea lions both come from a group of marine mammals called “pinnipeds”, indicating fin- or feather-footed in Latin. Real seals have ear holes, however no ear flaps. Consisted of in this group are types like the Harbour seal, Hawaiian Monk seal, Ringed seal and Harp seal.

Sea lions, on the other hand, have external ear flaps and are organized with the eared-seals. These flaps turn downward so that water does not enter into the animal’s ears. The eared-seal household consists of 6 types of sea lions and 10 types of fur seals.

There are other distinctions in between real seals and sea lions. On land, seals can’t stroll, and should swell on their stubborn bellies, whereas sea lions utilize their big front and back flippers to “stroll”.

In Canada (marine areas of British Columbia in the Northeastern Pacific), we have 2 types of sea lions: Steller sea lion ( Eumetopias jubatus) and the California sea lion ( Zalophus californianus).

Divers and Schmoozers

Sea lions, like seals, are remarkable scuba divers. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the inmost dive recorded for a Steller sea lion has to do with 427 metres (1,400 feet). California sea lions are not far behind, at about 300 metres. Sea lions hardly ever dive to such severe depths due to the fact that many of their food happens in waters less than 100 metres. The animals have a fantastic capability to collapse their lungs and shop additional oxygen in their blood, which keeps nitrogen out of the blood stream and assists ward off decompression illness (” the bends”, as it’s understood to human scuba divers).

Sea lions are amongst the most social animals in the world, event in groups of approximately 1,500 people called rafts or herds. That brings us to another distinction in between seals and sea lions: the latter are typically noisier, shouting, barking (California sea lions) and roaring (Steller sea lions). Real seals grunt, roar and groan, however not rather with the exact same volume as their flippered cousins.

Indicators of Ocean Health

As leading predators managing the top-down procedure in food webs and carrying out essential environmental functions in the seaside and marine environment of Canada’s west coast, Steller sea lions and California sea lions can be thought about “canaries in the coal mine”. They can assist researchers to comprehend and track the ecological conditions and health status of our altering oceans– working as guards of the unfavorable effects of ocean contamination.


Recent research study has actually revealed the existence and moderate concentrations of consistent natural contaminants (POPs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)– chemicals utilized as flame retardants– in Steller sea lions from the Strait of Georgia, BC (Alava et al., 2012). Because they are high up in the food cycle and consist of considerable fat or lipid tissues in their body, these POPs can bioaccumulate in their bodies with time with little metabolic capability to get rid of these natural impurities.

The effect of plastic contamination likewise impacts sea lions, triggering injuries and injury. Marine plastic particles, such as deserted and run-down fishing equipment, ropes, and long-lines cut the body and entangle (e.g. neck) of Stellar and California sea lions in BC. The Vancouver Aquarium through the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre has actually observed, saved, dealt with, launched and kept an eye on hurt sea lions affected by anthropogenic marine particles such as ocean plastics.

Natural risks consist of predation by Killer Whales, illness, and changing victim populations. Environment modification is likewise an aspect, considering that warmer waters will impact populations of fish, the primary victim of sea lions.

About the UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit

The Marine Mammal Research Unit (MMRU) carries out research study of the greatest requirements to improve marine mammal preservation and decrease disputes with human usages of our shared oceans. It is incorporated within the the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and deals with other departments and organizations, integrating specializeds in a collaborated effort to offer independent research study and guidance on matters associated with marine mammals. Members examine interactions in between human beings and marine mammals, marine mammals as indications of environment modification, and the nature, biology and preservation of marine mammals.

We can not make it through without the ocean; it supplies us oxygen to breathe, puts food on our plates, assists us battle environment modification, and supports dynamic seaside neighborhoods. End up being an Ocean Defender.

Become an Ocean Defender




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here