Eared Seals

The fur seals and sea lions make up the family Otariidae.

The Californian Sea Lion

is found in the Galápagos Islands, along the coast of California, and in parts of Japan. Males attain a length of 7 feet (2.1 m), females 6 feet (1.8m). Weight is up to 600 pounds (270 kg) for the male, 200 pounds (90 kg) for the female. Body color is some shade of chocolate brown, and the top of the head becomes lighter with age.

The Californian sea lion is Zalophus californianus.

The Northern Fur Seal

was formerly one of the most hunted seals. These seals are known for their seasonal migrations. They spend the winter and spring dispersed through the southern regions of the North Pacific Ocean. They breed in the Pribilof, Komandorskiye, Kuril, and Robben islands of the North Pacific. Adult bulls are about 7 feet (2.1 m) long and weigh about 600 pounds (270 kg). Females are about 5 feet (1.5 m) long and weigh up to 130 pounds (60 kg). Males have dark brown fur except for the mane, which has a grayish tinge. Females are slate gray above and reddish-gray below. Both sexes have a patch of lighter fur on the chest.

The northern fur seal is Callorhinus ursinus.

Alaskan fur sealsAlaskan fur seals are large, eared seals of the North Pacific.
Southern Fur Seals

live in seas near Baja California, South America, South Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. There are eight species. One of the most numerous is the South African, or cape, fur seal. It is the largest fur seal, reaching a length of 7.5 feet (2.3 m) and a weight greater than 660 pounds (300 kg). It is commercially hunted; a subspecies, the Australian fur seal, is protected.

The South African fur seal is Artocephalus pusillus; the Australian, A. p. doriferus.

The other southern fur seals are the South American fur seal (A. australis); New Zealand fur seal (A. fosteri); Galapagos fur seal (A. galapagoensis); Antarctic fur seal (A. gazella); Philippi, or Juan Fernandez, fur seal (A. philippi); Guadalupe fur seal (A. townsendi); and Kerguelen, or subantarctic, fur seal (A. tropicalis).

What Does Fur Do for a Fur Seal?

A fur seal has not one, but two layers of fur that cover its body. This thick fur keeps the animal warm and dry.

Fur seals can swim very fast. They paddle with their front flippers. Fur seals stick out their heads and necks to steer. On land, fur seals use all four flippers. See how this seal is sitting. Its hind flippers are turned forward and down. When the seal walks, it uses all four flippers to do so.

Underwater, fur seals have other features that help them find food and avoid enemies. Their small ear flaps curl over their ear openings. This helps keep water out. Their large, round eyes help them see in dark water. Their nostrils close when they dive, and they hold their breath until they need to come up for air. Their whiskers probably help them find food by touch.

When Is It the Right Time for a Swim?

For a fur seal, the right time for a swim is almost always. Like all pinnipeds, fur seals spend most of their time in the water. Their body shape makes them strong swimmers and divers.

Fur seals search for their food in the water. Most of the time, they find fish and other sea animals near the surface of the water. Sometimes, they must dive to find food. Some of the dives are shallow, but others are quite deep.

Fur seals may spend days at a time in the water. They are most active during the evening, at night, and early in the morning. They sleep during the middle of the day, floating on their sides.

When Is It Time to Haul Out?

Fur seals spend a lot of time in the water. But sometimes they need to “haul out.” When a fur seal hauls out, it uses its front flippers to pull itself up onto land or ice.

Fur seals haul out to rest and warm up in the sun. They may also haul out to escape from enemies, such as killer whales or sharks.

There are two other important times when fur seals leave the water. They haul out at molting time. When seals molt, they shed their old fur coats and grow new ones. And they haul out to have their pups.

Fur seals come out of the water for good reasons, but getting out may not be so easy. A male Cape fur seal, also called a South African fur seal, may be more than 7 feet (2 meters) long and weigh more than 660 pounds (300 kilograms). That’s a lot of body to be dragging out of the water!

What is Under All That Fur?

If you could see inside a fur seal’s body, here is how its bones would look.

Above the ankles, the fur seal’s four long legs are inside the seal’s body. The ankles and feet form large flippers. Each flipper has five toes. The toes are webbed, which means that they are connected by skin. The webbed feet act like paddles, helping the seals swim.

The spine, or backbone, of a fur seal is special, too. A fur seal uses its spine to make snakelike motions. These motions help propel the seal through the water.

What Are Fur Seal Pups Like?

Fur seal pups are born in the spring or summer. Mother seals usually give birth to only one pup at a time.

Newborn seal pups are more developed than human babies are at birth. Fur seal pups can walk and swim, but they wait a few weeks before they go into the water. Their eyes are open, and they can make sounds. Fine, soft fur covers their bodies. When the pups grow up, they will have fur like their parents have.

At first, a pup drinks only its mother’s rich milk. But pups grow up fast. Very soon, they are able to find their own food in the water.

How Does a Mother Find Her Pup?

Fur seal pups are born on land, in a place called a rookery. Thousands of mothers and their babies may crowd into a single rookery.

A mother Cape fur seal stays with her pup for most of the first week of its life. Five to seven days after giving birth, she goes off to sea to find food for herself. She eats and eats. It takes a lot of energy to feed a growing pup!

How does the mother find her own pup when she returns to the rookery? After she hauls out, the mother calls to her pup. The pup hears her and calls back. Each mother and pup have their own special call. This helps them to find each other in the crowded rookery.

When a mother and her pup find each other, they often rub noses. Each mother and pup also have a special smell. A mother knows that she has found the right pup by its smell.

The Steller's, or Northern, Sea Lion

is found throughout the North Pacific and the Arctic Ocean. It is the largest of the eared seals. Bulls are up to 11 feet (3.4 m) long and weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg). Females rarely exceed 8 l/2 feet (2.6m) and a weight of about 600 pounds (270 kg). The color is variable but is usually a yellowish shade of buff. The male has a thick, muscular neck with a mane of coarse, long hairs.

The Steller's sea lion is Eumetopias jubatus.

Other Eared Seals

include the Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea), the southern sea lion (Otaria byronia), and Hooker's sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri).

Are Sea Lions Really Lions?

No, but sea lions do have some things in common with those big cats. That’s why lion is part of their name. Male lions have manes. So do many kinds of male sea lions. Sometimes, male sea lions even roar like lions.

Among the pinnipeds, sea lions and fur seals are close cousins. Both swim with their front flippers and can walk on all fours. Both have ear flaps that cover their ear openings. Most sea lions are bigger than fur seals, however. The coats of sea lions are not so thick, but they do have more blubber. This layer of fat under the skin keeps the sea lions warm. It also gives them energy.

Are Sea Lions Smart?

Many people think sea lions are quite smart. The reason is that sea lions can learn to do many things. And they remember what they learn.

Sea lions can follow word signals and hand commands. They can also find objects underwater. Sea lions can jump through hoops and clap their flippers together.

Sea lions are most at home in oceans and seas. But you may have seen some in a zoo, a circus, or an aquarium. Perhaps you have seen a California sea lion balancing a ball on its nose and getting rewarded with a fish. California sea lions are good performers.

How Can Sea Lions Help People

The U.S. Navy has been using sea lions and dolphins to find and help recover objects that are sunk deep in the ocean. Since sea lions are such great divers, they can do the work better than humans.

Sea lions are also helping scientists study whales. Whales are hard to observe because they spend almost all their time underwater. Even if scientists get into the water with whales, the animals might sense the humans. The whales might respond to the people rather than behaving as they usually do.

Whales are used to being in the water with sea lions. So scientists are training these animals to wear cameras and to videotape whales. It will be interesting to see how successful sea lions are in becoming “whale watchers.”