Seals & Sea Lions – What’s the Difference?

Seals & Sea Lions – What’s the Difference?

Seals and sea lions: both cute, amazing animals that make their homes in our near the ocean. But only one of those will you see during an eco cruise with Jervis Bay Wild. The Australian fur seal lives and breeds in our area. Colonies are found on Drum and Drumsticks as well as Steamers Headland. On one of our whale eco cruises or dolphin watch tours, you may be lucky enough to spot the local seals on your journey. But don’t mistake them for sea lions! In order to be prepared, let’s take a look at the differences between these two animals and learn how to tell them apart.

First, the Similarities

Both seals and sea lions are pinnipeds, marine mammals who are “fin-footed.” As you might expect, walruses also fall into this classification. This type of mammal spends its life both in and out of the water. Australian fur seals inhabit rocky coastlines, like those found in some parts of Jervis Bay.

All types of pinnipeds are carnivores, typically feeding on sea life such as fish, clams, octopus, and crustaceans. They each move (perhaps somewhat awkwardly on land) by using their four flippers. Sensitive whiskers called vibrissae are found on all seals, sea lions, and walruses, helping them to navigate and hunt. While baby walruses are referred to as calves, for both the seal and the sea lion, youngsters are known as pups.

The Sea Lion vs. The (Fur) Seal

It is here that most similarities end, but while the species are different, it can be tough to tell the seal (particularly the fur seal) and the sea lion apart at first glance. The biggest difference is in the presence of external ears. Both the fur seal and the sea lion possess small flaps on the outside of their ears. Sometimes this results in their nickname of “eared seals.” But the “true seal” —those other than the fur seal—do not possess such flaps, but instead have a simple ear hole.

But even the fur seal and the sea lion, with their external ears, have many other differences. The movement of the sea lion is distinctive–they appear “taller” and seem to walk about on their large fins. Seals are better adapted to movement in the water, and their bodies are more rounded. Yet fur seals also possess the ability to rotate their front flippers and use them more efficiently—much like the sea lion. The true or earless seals have shorter less versatile front flippers, lending their movement a shuffling quality.

Although both live in colonies, sea lions are somewhat more social creatures. They are also much more vocal, prone to loud barking. Seals spent a larger portion of their lives in the water, coming ashore primarily for mating and breeding. Here in Australia, sea lions are very rare. They are found only along the coasts of Western Australia and South Australia. Other parts of the world where sea lions live include coastal California and the Galapagos Islands.

We’re very fortunate to have the Australian fur seal right here in our region of Jervis Bay. If you’d like to catch a potential glimpse of these skillful swimmers, please join us on one of our eco cruises, departing 365 days per year. Book your spot now.

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