Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- There are 33 living seal species in three families, including true seals, eared seals, and walruses.
- Seals are marine mammals, distinguished by their fur, mammary glands, and ability to breathe oxygen.
- The harbor seal is the most common species, with around 500,000 individuals in the wild.
- Baby harp seals are considered the cutest type of seal, with their soft white fur and dog-like faces.
- Seals face threats such as climate change, hunting, and human disturbance of their habitats.
Out of all of the marine mammals on Earth, seals are arguably some of the most endearing. These furry ocean dwellers have adorable puppy-like faces and they can be found in all of the world’s major bodies of water.
But how much do you actually know about the different types of seals?
In this article, we’ll introduce you to all 33 types of seals. From sea lions to fur seals to walruses, and more, in this article, we’ll discuss what marks each seal species unique and clue you in to some fun facts about pinnipeds. That way, you can impress your friends with all your seal knowledge.
Seal Animal FAQ
Before we dive into the details about seals, here are our answers to some of your most commonly asked questions about the different types of seals:
Are Seals Mammals?
Yes, a seal is a marine mammal. Although they live in the ocean and other bodies of water, seals are not fish. Rather, seals have fur, mammary glands, and the ability to breathe oxygen, all of which are essential characteristics of any mammal.
How Many Seals Are There?
There are 33 living seal species in three families. Additionally there are at least 50 different extinct types of seals that scientists have identified using fossils and other paleontological records.
What is the Most Common Species of Seal?
The harbor seal is one of the most common seal species in the world. It’s found in all of the northernmost waters of the Northern Hemisphere and it’s believed that there are approximately 500,000 individuals in the wild. Other common species include the Antarctic fur seal, though it has a much more remote range and habitat than the harbor seal.
What is the Recognizable Type of Seal?
The cutest type of seal is arguably the baby harp seal. Baby harp seals have a stunning coat of soft white fur and an adorable dog-like face. Although harp seals lose their white fur as they age, there are few other pinnipeds that can rival the cuteness of the harp seal pup.
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The 33 Amazing Types of Seals: Guide, Pictures and Classification
There are more than 2 dozen living types of seals that roam our wonderful plant. All seals belong to a single clade called Pinnipedia. Within this clade there are 3 living families: the true seals, the eared seals, and the walruses.
There are a total of 18 genera of seals and 33 living species of seals within these 3 families. Here’s a quick look at all of the seal species and what makes each type unique.
1. True Seals (Phocids)
The true seals, or phocids, are what many people think of when they picture a seal. Sometimes called the earless seals, the true seals are all members of the family Phocidae, which contains 18 living species. This makes the true seals the largest pinniped family. Here’s what you need to know about each species.
1.1 Mediterranean Monk Seal
First up on our list is the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus). The Mediterranean monk seal is one of only two living species of monk seals in the world (the other being the Hawaiian monk seal).
Like its Hawaiian cousin, the Mediterranean monk seal has a fairly slim body and a wide, mostly flat snout. However, the aptly-named Mediterranean monk seal is almost exclusively found in the Mediterranean Sea. The only non-Mediterranean populations of this species are found in the northeast Atlantic around Cabo Blanco and Madeira.
Unfortunately, the Mediterranean monk seal is currently listed as endangered. It’s believed that there are fewer than about 700 individuals left in the wild. However, the global population of this species was recently downgraded from critically endangered to endangered by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) thanks to regional conservation efforts.
1.2 Hawaiian Monk Seal
The only seal native to the Hawaiian islands, the Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi) is a small, greyish pinniped that enjoys hanging out on sandy beaches. Also known as the Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua in Hawaiian, the Hawaiian monk seal is the state mammal of Hawaii.
For the most part, the Hawaiian monk seal lives in the northwestern part of the archipelago around the Leeward Islands. However, you can also see them resting on the beaches of the main islands. Here, they like to feed on bony fish, crustaceans, and even octopuses.
As is the case with the Mediterranean monk seal, the Hawaiian monk seal is listed as endangered by the IUCN. Although it is preyed upon by some of the common shark species like Galapagos shark, great white shark, and tiger shark, most of the seal’s population decline is due to human disturbance of their habitat. The species also has very low genetic diversity, which is a potential threat to its long-term survival.
1.3 Northern Elephant Seal
The largest of the true seals found in the Northern Hemisphere, the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) is a hefty pinniped that lives in the eastern Pacific. Most of the species’ main populations are found in California’s Channel Islands. There are also smaller populations found in Mexico and other parts of the eastern Pacific basin.
An adult male northern elephant seal can weigh approximately 4,400 pounds (1,995 kg) while females rarely grow to be more than 1,300 pounds (589 kg). This makes for some of the largest sexual dimorphism in the world in a single species.
Furthermore, the northern elephant seal has one of the longest natural migrations of any mammal. In fact, scientists have recorded one individual traveling more than 13,000 miles (20,921 km) in a single year!
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1.4 Southern Elephant Seal
The southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) is the largest pinniped in the world. In fact, it’s the largest non-whale marine mammal. With a maximum weight of about 8,800 lbs (4,000 kg), the southern elephant seal is even about the same weight as some types of elephants!
As its name suggests, the southern elephant seal is found in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s believed that there’s about 650,000 or so individuals in the world, most of which live in the South Atlantic.
One of the largest populations of southern elephant seals can be found on South Georgia. Other notable populations are found in the Subantarctic Islands of the Indian Ocean and on Macquarie Island near New Zealand.
These seals were heavily hunted in the nineteenth century, which nearly drove the species to extinction. Since the ban on southern elephant seal hunting, the species has made a remarkable recovery.
1.5 Ross Seal
One of the least-studied seal species in the world, the Ross seal (Ommatophoca rossi) is the only pinniped that lives only on the pack ice of Antarctica.
The species gets its name from that of the 1839–1843 Ross Expedition to Antarctica, which was led by Sir James Clark Ross. During the expedition, Ross sailed to the Ross Sea and to the Ross Ice Shelf, both of which bear his name.
Unlike most other pinniped species, which have been heavily documented and studied, the Ross seal is poorly understood due to its remote habitat. The species is easy to identify because of its short snout and unique fur color.
Additionally, the Ross seal makes an incredible vocalization that sounds like a mix of sirens and pitter-patters. Check out some of the pinniped’s vocalization patterns in this amazing footage of a Ross seal on the Antarctic pack ice:
1.6 Crabeater Seal
Found only around the coastal waters of Antarctica, the crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophagus) is a medium-sized pinniped with a gorgeous silvery fur coat. Despite its name, the crabeater seal doesn’t actually eat crabs. Rather, it uses its unique sieve-like teeth to filter krill out of the frigid Southern Ocean.
The crabeater seal is closely related to the Weddell, Ross, and leopard seals. However, the leopard seal is a particularly infamous predator of crabeater seal pups. Even in adulthood, crabeater seals can become prey for a leopard seal. Many adult crabeater seals have scars on their flippers from fending off hungry leopard seals.
Crabeater seals prefer to spend their time on the Antarctic pack ice, though they’ve been known to wander as far away as New Zealand or Argentina. At the moment, it’s unclear how healthy the overall crabeater seal population is due to the species’ fondness for remote habitats. But the IUCN currently lists the pinniped as a species of least concern.
1.7 Leopard Seal
Out of all the pinnipeds, the leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) is arguably the most ferocious looking. This pagophilic (ice-loving) seal is found only in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters where it spends the bulk of its time hanging out on the pack ice.
The leopard seal has a distinctive snake-like snout and spotted fur pattern that makes it easy to distinguish from other pinnipeds in its range. It’s one of the most opportunistic seals, too, as it will eat everything from krill and fish to penguins, and even other seals. Indeed, its only natural non-human predator is the orca.
Leopard seals have had a long and complex history of human interaction. There are stories from Antarctic expeditions in the early twentieth century of leopard seals attacking humans.
In more recent years, leopard seals have been known to bite and puncture the tubes of rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) operating in Antarctic waters. There has also been at least one known human fatality from a leopard seal. However, most leopard seals are as afraid of humans as any other animal and most sightings are a pleasant experience for all involved.
1.8 Weddell Seal
The Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) is the last of the four true seals that are found only in Antarctic waters. It was named for James Weddell, a British sailor and seal hunter that reached a then-record southerly latitude of 74º15’S in 1823.
Of all the Antarctic seal species, the Weddell seal is perhaps the best understood. It spends a large portion of its life living on fast ice, including in areas near Antarctic research stations. They can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from crabeater seals. However, Weddell seals have a funky coloration around their neck that looks a bit like the speckled pattern of a traditional Nordic sweater.
Like Ross seals, Weddell seals are also known for their unique vocalizations. They make fascinating sounds both on land and below the surface of the water. Researchers believe that the seals create their own individual songs that are used for communication, particularly between a mother and a pup. Check out this awesome footage of multiple Weddell seals vocalizing to learn more:
1.9 Hooded Seal
The hooded seal (Cystophora cristata) is a relatively large pinniped that lives exclusively in the North Atlantic ocean. It gets its name from its distinctive hood-like organ located on the top of its head. This organ is actually an inflatable bladder that’s used to attract mates during the mating season.
When compared to other Atlantic seals, the hooded seal has a somewhat odd distribution. It can be found as far north as the pack ice of Jan Mayen and Labrador or as far south as the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Atlantic Canada. The hooded seal has also been spotted as far south as Maine and it’s been known to wander over to Spain’s Mediterranean coast.
Hooded seals have long been hunted by humans, though most contemporary hunting is for subsistence purposes. The species is currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN due to the effects of climate change, overfishing, and the disruptive impacts of offshore oil and gas drilling.
1.10 Bearded Seal
The largest of the northern pinnipeds besides the walrus, the bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus) is a hefty marine mammal that lives on the pack ice in the Arctic. It can weigh upward of about 950 lbs (430 kg), though there is relatively little size difference between male and female bearded seals.
As its name suggests, the bearded seal does have some facial hair. It sports a collection of bristle-like hairs on its muzzle that look surprisingly like a well-kept beard.
Another way to distinguish the bearded seal from similar pinnipeds is by the red color it has on its face. This red color isn’t natural; rather, it’s the result of seals sticking their heads in mudflats on the seafloor to look for clams and other food. Iron in the mud eventually sticks to the seal’s face and, when the seal swims to shore, the iron reacts with the oxygen and turns their face red.
Bearded seals are listed as a species of least concern, however they have many natural predators. This includes polar bears, walruses, orcas, and even Greenland sharks.
1.11 Harbor Seal
Also called the common seal, the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) is a pinniped that lives along most of the temperate and sub-Arctic waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It’s a medium-sized seal with a brown to silver coat. However, what distinguishes the harbor seal from other species is its distinctive V-shaped nostrils.
Due to its wide range, the harbor seal is considered a species of least concern. Researchers think that there are at least 315,000 individuals globally, many of which can be seen resting on rugged, rocky coastlines.
The aptly named harbor seal enjoys hanging out in shallow estuaries and bays where they can find mollusks, anchovies, cod, herring, and other tasty snacks.
Human activity and coastal development in these areas has a large negative impact on harbor seals who need quiet places to haul out for their annual molt. Thankfully, conservation efforts in recent decades have helped maintain a decent habitat for harbor seals, even around some of the world’s busiest seaports, like New York City.
1.12 Spotted Seal
Closely related to the harbor seal, the spotted seal (Phoca largha) is a pinniped that lives in the Arctic and sub-Arctic waters of the Pacific Ocean. It can be found as far east as Bristol Bay in Alaska and as far west as the Yellow Sea.
The spotted seal is fairly similar in size to a harbor seal. But it has a collection of spots on its fur that make it easy to distinguish from other similar species. These pinnipeds also tend to be more gregarious than other true seals. In fact, there have been sightings of thousands of spotted seals hauled out together on a single sandbar.
There’s a bit of controversy over whether the spotted seal should be listed as endangered. The IUCN lists it as a species of least concern. But the species’ reliance on the rapidly melting Arctic pack ice may threaten it in the near future. It isn’t currently listed as endangered in the US, but it is a protected species in South Korea.
1.13 Ringed Seal
The ringed seal (Pusa hispida) is a relatively small pinniped that can be found in sub-Arctic and Arctic waters, including in freshwater lakes of northern Europe. It is one of the most populous true seal species with more than 1.4 million individuals found across the globe.
There are actually five recognized subspecies of ringed seal: Arctic ringed seal, Baltic ringed seal, Lagoda seal, Saimaa ringed seal, and Pusa hispida ochotensis.
Although most subspecies live in ocean waters, the Saimaa and Lagoda subspecies live in two large lakes in the Karelia region of Finland and Russia. The Saimaa ringed seal is one of the most endangered pinniped species in the world. It’s believed that there are fewer than 400 individuals remaining of this subspecies.
1.14 Baikal Seal
Found only in its namesake Lake Baikal, the Baikal seal (Pusa sibirica) is closely related to the ringed seal. It is among the smallest of the true seals and it has the distinction of being the only pinniped species that’s exclusively found in freshwater.
Since all other seal species live primarily in ocean environments, it’s unclear how the Baikal seal ended up in Lake Baikal, which is located hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. Nevertheless, the species seems to thrive in the lake, where it has a plethora of its favorite food: the golomyanka.
Interestingly, the species’ only known natural predator is the East Siberian brown bear. The species is legal to hunt in Russia, though the annual quota is fairly low. Researchers believe that the seal’s biggest threat is climate change, which could have a sizable negative impact on sensitive freshwater ecosystems like Lake Baikal.
1.15 Caspian Seal
The Caspian seal (Pusa caspica) is another geographically limited pinniped. It’s found only in the Caspian Sea where it thrives in the sea’s brackish waters. The species is closely related to the ringed and Baikal seals, though it’s easy to distinguish because it’s the only pinniped in its range.
Caspian seals are the apex predator in the Caspian Sea ecosystem. They feed mostly on fish and crustaceans, but the specific fish species that they eat varies greatly throughout the year.
Unlike the Baikal and ringed seal, the Caspian seal is listed as endangered. Although the species has some natural predators, such as wolves and sea eagles, human development may be its biggest threat. Additionally, the species is particularly vulnerable to canine distemper virus, which has caused mass die-offs in recent decades.
1.16 Harp Seal
Arguably the most recognizable of the seal species, the harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) lives primarily in the northernmost waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the species’ population lives in the waters around Eastern Canada, Greenland, and the western European Arctic. However, there is a subspecies that lives in the Barents and White seas.
While the adult harp seal is a beautiful animal in its own right, the harp seal pup is perhaps the most charismatic and easily identifiable pinniped. These seals are born with a stunning coat of pure white fur that helps them camouflage on the pack ice. They lose this white fur coat after about 2 to 3 weeks during their first molt. But there are few things cuter than a harp seal pup.
The harp seal population is currently growing, though there are concerns about the species’ long-term health in the wake of climate change. Although the harp seal is a traditional food of many Indigenous peoples in the Arctic, the loss of the Arctic pack ice is believed to be a much bigger threat to the species than human hunting, much of which is highly regulated.
1.17 Ribbon Seal
The ribbon seal (Histriophoca fasciata) is one of the least understood of the Arctic seals. It lives throughout the Arctic Ocean and in parts of the Bering Sea where it is listed as a species of least concern.
It’s fairly straightforward to identify as the ribbon seal has large white strips on its dark black fur. However, young ribbon seal pups closely resemble harp seal pups due to their white fur. Despite this physical similarity, the two species live in completely different regions, so confusing them in the wild is difficult.
Interestingly, ribbon seals demonstrate relatively little fear of humans. Although they tend to live alone, rather than in a group, ribbon seals are often indifferent to commotion around them. They’ve also been seen leaving their pups on their own for long periods of time. This might suggest that the ribbon seal isn’t as commonly hunted by polar bears as other Arctic pinnipeds.
1.18 Grey Seal
Rounding off our list of the true seal species is the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus). The grey seal is a large pinniped that lives throughout the sub-Arctic and temperate waters of the North Atlantic.
It’s commonly seen in the northeastern US and in Atlantic Canada. Populations also exist around Iceland, the United Kingdom, and the Scandinavian Peninsula. Additionally, there’s a subspecies of grey seal called Halichoerus grypus grypus that lives only in the Baltic Sea.
Of all of the pinniped species that live in the temperate waters of the North Atlantic, the grey seal is perhaps the most gregarious. It lives in huge colonies in the US and the UK, particularly around Scotland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The grey seal is a favorite food of orca, Greenland sharks, and great white sharks. However, it is listed as a species of least concern, despite the fact that it was nearly extirpated by over-zealous hunters in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
2. Eared Seals (Otariids)
More commonly known as the eared seals, the otariids are the second family of pinnipeds. This family includes all of the sea lions and fur seals.
As the family’s name suggests, all of these species have small visible ear flaps, which the true seals don’t have. Additionally, otariids are much more mobile on land than true seals because they have larger fore flippers and the ability to turn their hind flippers forward. This allows them to run at surprising speeds on land.
There are 14 total otariid species in 7 genera. Here’s what you need to know about each of the eared seal species:
2.1 Brown Fur Seal
The brown fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus) is the largest fur seal on the planet. There are two subspecies of this pinniped—the South African fur seal (A. pusillus pusillus) and the Australian fur seal (A. pusillus doriferus)—both of which live in the Southern Hemisphere.
Although there are slight differences between the two subspecies, the largest brown fur seals can weigh up to about 660 lbs (300 kg). But these seals display significant sexual dimorphism. In fact, the females usually weigh less than 260 lbs (120 kg).
These fur seals live in huge colonies on rocky and sandy coastlines throughout their range. The species was extensively hunted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which almost led to its extinction. Today, both sub-species are listed as species of least concern, thanks to conservation efforts.
2.2 Antarctic Fur Seal
The southernmost of the fur seals, the Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) is found throughout Antarctic and sub-Antarctic waters.
Interestingly, it’s actually more widely distributed in the sub-Antarctic islands, such as the Crozet Islands, than in the actual Antarctic. But it also lives in isolated parts of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Like the brown fur seal, the Antarctic fur seal was heavily hunted. It was nearly driven to extinction in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. However, there are now about 1 million adult Antarctic fur seals, most of which live on South Georgia.
2.3 Guadalupe Fur Seal
The Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi) is one of the northernmost fur seal species. It lives primarily along the western coast of the Baja Peninsula around Guadalupe Island.
Like many fur seal species, the Guadalupe fur seal was heavily hunted during the nineteenth century. At one point, there were fewer than 100 individuals remaining. As of 2021, however, the seal is now a species of least concern thanks to local conservation efforts.
Although you can often see them hanging out on rocky coastlines, the Guadalupe fur seal is also known to relax in the water. In fact, it’s frequently spotted floating in the ocean with its head underwater and rear flippers sticking out.
2.4 Juan Fernández Fur Seal
The Juan Fernández fur seal (Arctocephalus philippii) is a relatively small fur seal that’s found only off the coast of Chile. It lives around the Juan Fernández Islands and the Desventuradas Islands, though more research is needed to determine its true range.
Relatively little is known about the habits and characteristics of the Juan Fernández fur seal because of the remoteness of its range. The species was heavily hunted and, by the late nineteenth century, many thought that the species was extinct.
During the mid-twentieth century, a few individual Juan Fernández fur seals were spotted off the coast of Chile. This encouraged the Chilean government to give the species complete protection. As a result, the species has made a surprising recovery and it is now a species of least concern.
2.5 Galápagos Fur Seal
The Galápagos fur seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) is the smallest fur seal in the world. It is endemic to the Galápagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador and it is currently listed as endangered by the IUCN.
In general, the Galápagos fur seal is born with a dark black coat that becomes more brownish with age. They rarely grow to be more than about 140 lbs (64 kg), making them very small for a pinniped.
Initially, the primary threat to the health of the Galápagos fur seal population was over-hunting. However, since the establishment of the national park in the archipelago, the species is no longer hunted. Nevertheless, oil spills, boat collisions, and human disturbances from tourism are all threats to the species’ long-term well being.
2.6 New Zealand Fur Seal
Although it’s called the New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri), this pinniped species is actually found throughout the southernmost reaches of Australasia. In particular, it lives around the South Island of New Zealand, the New Zealand sub-Antarctic Islands, and around southern Australia.
The New Zealand fur seal shares many characteristics and behaviors with other fur seals, like the Subantarctic fur seal. This includes the fact that it likes to live in large colonies and that it can dive to exceptional depths.
As is the case with other similar species, the New Zealand fur seal was nearly driven to extinction as result of commercial hunting. It is now protected throughout nearly all of its range.
2.7 Subantarctic Fur Seal
The Subantarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) is a geographically widespread pinniped that lives in the southernmost parts of the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans.
Although it shares many physical features with the Antarctic fur seal, the Subantarctic species is found in more northerly waters. Much of the species’ range is highly remote and it includes areas like Gough Island, Île Amsterdam, and Prince Edward Island.
That being said, there are areas where the Antarctic and Subantarctic fur seal ranges overlap. In these situations, you can often identify a Subantarctic fur seal by the slight orange color on its chest.
2.8 South American Fur Seal
The South American fur seal (Arctocephalus australis) is among the most widespread of pinniped species in South America. Its range includes nearly all of the coastline of the continent to the south of Brazil and Ecuador as well as the Falkland Islands.
This huge range means that the South American fur seal is well-adapted to a variety of environments. In fact, there are documented sightings of the South American fur seal as far north as the Galápagos Islands. As a result, the species can survive both the harsh winters of Tierra del Fuego and the subtropical waters of coastal Ecuador.
Despite its wide range, relatively little is known about the overall population health of the South American fur seal. It’s listed as a species of least concern, but inconsistent data collection methods might be the cause of inflated population numbers.
2.9 Northern Fur Seal
Despite its name, the northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) is not that closely related to any of the other fur seals. In fact, it’s the only fur seal that’s regularly sighted to the north of Mexico and it’s the only species found in frigid waters of the North Pacific.
The northern fur seal is mostly found around Alaska and the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia where it forms large breeding colonies. It has been hunted since time immemorial by Indigneous peoples in Alaska and Arctic Russia, though it was nearly driven to extinction by European hunting in the nineteenth century.
Despite recent conservation efforts, the northern fur seal is listed as a vulnerable species with a declining population. This is mostly due to the effects of climate change and from overfishing in the species’ primary habitat.
2.10 Steller Sea Lion
Named for naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) is one of the largest eared seals. It lives only in the northern Pacific around coastal British Columbia, Alaska, Russia, and Japan. The species is listed as near-threatened throughout its range.
The Steller sea lion is a particularly skilled predator. There are reports of individuals hunting very large fish species, such as white sturgeon. On occasion, Steller sea lions will even hunt young sea otters, harbor seals, and northern fur seals. Their only known natural predators are orcas and great white sharks.
Although steller sea lions have long been hunted by Indigenous communities, they were rarely hunted by commercial sealers. Rather, much of the decline in the species’ population is due to intentional killing by fishing vessels and due to climate change.
2.11 Australian Sea Lion
Found only on the southern coast of the states of Western Australia and South Australia, the Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea) is an endangered pinniped that lives primarily on sandy beaches.
Most Australian sea lions are opportunistic feeders that eat anything from southern rock lobsters to octopuses. Some have even been seen eating little penguins (Eudyptula minor). At the same time, the Australian sea lion is eaten by great white sharks. It’s also occasionally killed by stingrays and other marine animals, but this isn’t well understood.
The species used to be much more widespread. But human land development and disturbances have limited the sea lion’s range to fewer than 100 confirmed breeding sites.
2.12 South American Sea Lion
The South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens) is another common pinniped throughout much of southern coastal South America. It shares much of its range with the South American fur seal, though the two species are easy to identify due to their distinctive physical features.
When compared to other eared seals, the South American sea lion is among the most sexually dimorphic. Males can weigh upward of 770 lbs (350 kg) while adult females rarely weigh more than 330 lbs (150 kg).
Like most seals, the South American sea lion was hunted for many centuries. At the moment, the species is listed as being of least concern and its population is somewhat stable. However, it is often susceptible to major weather and climate events, like strong El Niños, which can disrupt its feeding opportunities.
2.13 New Zealand Sea Lion
Sometimes called the Hooker’s sea lion or whakahao, the New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) is one of the world’s rarest sea lions. It’s found only around the South Island of New Zealand and around the region’s sub-Antarctic islands.
New Zealand sea lions have a diverse diet that includes Patagonian toothfish, Antarctic horsefish, and even New Zealand fur seals. Their only known natural predator is the great white shark, though they have been hunted for subsistence purposes by Māori for countless generations.
There are a number of reasons why the species is listed as endangered. Historically, the primary threat to the New Zealand sea lion was traditional commercial hunting, though this was banned in the 1890s. However, the species is now threatened by bycatch killings in the commercial fish industry. Climate change is also thought to threaten the species’ long-term health.
2.14 California Sea Lion
Our final species of eared seal is none other than the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). This lovable pinniped has a natural range that extends far beyond California. In fact, it’s found as far south as central Mexico and as far north as southeast Alaska.
Since California sea lions live along some of the most heavily populated coastline in the US, the species has been well-studied by marine biologists.
The California sea lion is widely regarded as easy to train, which is one of the reasons why it’s a common sight in circuses and aquariums. They have even been trained by the US Navy to detect enemy divers and naval mines.
The California sea lion is currently listed as a species of least concern with a growing population by the IUCN. However, the species is very susceptible to environmental changes caused by El Niño. The seals are also known to damage docks and moored vessels in their habitat, which has led to conflict with humans in recent years.
Okay, we know what you’re thinking: Is a walrus really a seal? Well, it turns out that the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) is technically a type of seal.
In fact, the walrus is the only living species in the family Odobenidae, which is part of the clade Pinnipedia. Since the clade Pinnipedia includes all the seals, we can classify the walrus as a seal, too!
As you might imagine, there are a few key differences between walruses and other seals. First and foremost, the walrus is the only seal that has tusks. It’s also one of the largest seals on the planet, beaten in size only by the two elephant seal species.
Walruses live in a discontinuous circumpolar habitat around the Arctic Ocean. Basically, there are two recognized subspecies of walrus—Pacific and Atlantic—that live in parts of the Russian, European, Alaskan, and Greenland Arctic. There are also some walrus that live in the eastern Canadian Arctic around Baffin Island.
Humans have hunted walruses since humans entered their habitat. They are a traditionally important food source and resource for many Indigenous peoples, including the Inuit, Chukchi, and Yupik. Many Indigenous communities traditionally eat walrus meat and use the blubber to create oil. Walrus tusks and bones are also traditionally used for tools in many Northern communities.
However, the walrus was over-hunted and exploited during the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, mostly by European hunters. This over-hunting nearly led to the extinction of the Atlantic walrus. Although the walrus’ population has rebounded dramatically since the nineteenth century, it is still listed as vulnerable by the IUCN due to the effects of climate change.