Ask A Scientist: Fur seals and sea lions

Smart Sea Cucumber writes “Why are fur seals called seals when they look more like sea lions?”

Good observation, Smart Sea Cucumber! I like to think fur seals are called seals just to confuse all of us. Fur seals and sea lions belong to a group called otariids (oh-tar-eye-ids), which are commonly known as “eared” seals. Phocids (foh-sids) are commonly known as “earless” seals. This means that fur seals and sea lions are more closely related to each other than they are to “earless” seals, which is why they do look so similar! To help you become a marine mammal observation pro, here is a cheat sheet to help you identify some of the smaller differences between fur seals, sea lions, and seals. For more information, you can also check out these references. Keep observing and keep questioning, Smart Sea Cucumber!

– Karli the seal scientist

A handy cheat sheet to help you identify marine mammals. Credit: Karli Chudeau

If you want to learn more about seals and sea lions, you can visit the Marine Mammal Center’s website.


Main image [Source]: Galapagos Fur Seals live off the coast of South America and are the smallest of the Otariids.

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