Seals & Sea Lions

California sea lions

California sea lions

The male California sea lion can grow to over 7 feet in length and weigh over 900 pounds, while females can reach over 6 feet in length and weigh up to 250 pounds.

California sea lions exhibit sexual dimorphism, where there are clear visual differences between adult male and females. Adult females and juvenile males have slender bodies while adult males have bulkier bodies with a distinct crest on their heads and a crown of hair around their neck. They have long broad front flippers with small claws compared to the hind flippers which have less webbed digits and short claws at the end of the digits. Coloration can range from a blond or tan to a dark brown.

California sea lions range from as far north as British Columbia, Canada to as far south as Baja California, Mexico.

California sea lions frequent rocky and sandy beaches of coastal islands and mainland shorelines. They are often seen at marinas, boat docks, jetties and buoys.

The diet of California sea lions consists of a variety of fishes and invertebrates such as squids and octopuses.

Northern Fur Seals

Northern Fur Seals

Male northern fur seals can reach maximum lengths of 6 feet 11inches and almost 600 pounds while females are slightly smaller with a maximum length 4 feet 11 inches and 130 pounds.

Belonging to the family Otariidae, along with all fur seal and sea lion species, northern fur seals have external ear flaps, long front flippers and the ability to rotate their hind flipper to move well on land. The hind flippers of the northern fur seal are the largest of any of animals in the fur seal and sea lion family. Aptly named for their two dense fur coats, the northern fur seal has an outer layer of long, coarse guard hairs (usually dark brown to black in color) in addition to dense, fine underfur estimated to contain 300,000 hairs per square inches. The northern fur seal has a relatively stocky body in comparison to other fur seal and sea lion species and a short snout which gives them a bear like appearance. Male northern fur seals are easily distinguishable from females by size and appearance. Males of the species are significantly larger than females and at maturity, become broad through the chest and shoulders and develop a mane of stiff, short hairs.

Northern fur seals can be found in the cold waters of the Northern
Pacific Ocean, the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Rarely coming on shore, the northern fur seal will spend most of their life in the open ocean. Some animals may spend several years at sea before returning to rookeries.

These animals have developed a “jug-handle” position to sleep while they are at sea.

Northern fur seals feed mostly at night using shallow dives to search for food, but can dive to over 800 feet searching for a variety of schooling fish and squid.

Harbor seals

Harbor seals

Harbor seals are marine mammals belonging to the order Pinnipedia, which includes all seals, sea lions, and walruses. They are further classified as Phocids, or true seals. Their scientific name is Phoca vitulina meaning calf-like. Harbor Seals haul out to form groups of varied sizes and mixed ages. Harbor seals typically do not stray far from an area that they know (except for food).

Harbor seals are found in a variety of marine habitats including coastal lagoons, rocky coastal areas, and estuaries. They have been known to forage at the mouths of freshwater rivers and streams, and have occasionally traveled several hundred miles upstream. They tend to haul out on sandy and pebble beaches, sandbars, and occasionally on ice floes in bays near glaciers.

In their ocean habitats, they are known to consume fish, cephalopods, krill, and other invertebrates. More specifically they will feed on herring, cod, flounder, sculpin, gadoids, salmon, octopuses, whelks, shrimps, and amphipods.  At Mystic Aquarium, our harbor seals get fed approximately 10-15 lbs. of capelin, herring, squid, and sometimes mackerel and salmon.

Seals are very good swimmers, assisted by their streamlined shape, but are quite restricted on land. They are unable to support their body weight on their pectoral flippers and flop themselves on the ground to move about.

Steller Sea Lions

Steller Sea Lions

Steller sea lions are the largest of the Otariidae family (the group that includes sea lions and fur seals). Males can reach sizes of 11 feet in length and 2,400 pounds while females are smaller at 9.5 feet in length and 700 pounds.

Steller sea lions are well known for their noticeably large head and broad chest. Coloration of adults ranges from light brown to blond with a slightly darker bottom half, while pups are born dark brown or black.

They range from southern California, northward along the coast of North America, across the Aleutian Islands, and southward to Japan.

Spotted seal

Spotted seals are marine mammals belonging to the order Pinnipedia, in the family Phocidae, which includes all “true seals” such as harbor seals and other non-eared species. Their scientific name is Phoca largha, which stems from the Greek word for seal, “phoce,” and the Siberian name for this seal, “larga.” Spotted seals are often referred to as ice seals, which is a term that refers to any seal that spends the majority of their life in icy environments. Other ice seals can include hooded seals, ringed seals, and leopard seals.

Spotted seals are found in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, specifically in the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Sea of Japan, and up into the Chukchi Sea. They generally haul out on ice floes for breeding and molting, but will live in the open ocean during summer months. In areas near Alaska where the spotted seal and harbor seal share habitats, it is often difficult to tell the two species apart. However, spotted seals can be identified by their dark irregular spotted markings against a lighter gray or silver fur. They also have a narrower snout, much like a dog’s.

There is not a significant difference in appearance between male and female spotted seals. Mature animals of both sexes will range between 4.5 to 7 feet in length and will weigh between 180-240 pounds. During breeding season, spotted seals will form “family units” consisting of a male, female, and the newborn pup. Pups will feed primarily on krill and small crustaceans and adults will eat a variety of fish species including herring, capelin, and Arctic cod.

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