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Sea Lions vs. Seals

Fatima Rangwala
Sea lions and seals are related but different groups of marine carnivores. Read on for a more detailed look at the differences between the two...
Seals and sea lions are both classified in the clade Pinnipedia, which means 'fin-footed' or 'feather-footed. The characteristics of these animals differ when it comes to physical appearance and adaptations.
There are three major families in Pinnipedia: eared seals (Otariidae), true seals (Phocidae), and walruses (Odobenidae). Many people can't, at first glace, differentiate between the first two.

Facts about Pinnipeds

There are about 33 extant species of pinnipeds. They are colored in various patterns and colors. Also, they possess tweak whiskers, just like mice and cats, used as tactile sensors called vibrissae. They have four flippers on their body, and have an excellent sense of hearing.
The offspring are called pups, but the offspring of walruses are called calves. Pinnipeds survive in the womb for 8 to 16 months, depending on the species. All the pinnipeds are carnivorous mammals, and are highly specialized to exploit an aquatic habitat. They feed on aquatic animals, like clams, fish, crustaceans, etc.
Difference Between Seals and Sea Lions
Seals Sea Lions
Have ear holes, and no external ear Have ear flaps
Have whiskers that are cramped up or bearded Have long, smooth whiskers
Have short, hairy front flippers and long claws Have long, hairless front flippers
Seals Sea Lions
Swim by maneuvering with front flippers and boosting ahead with hind flippers Swim using their front flippers just like the wings of a bird
They keep their hind flippers jutting out, and move around on land by wiggling on their belly Their hind flippers are used to push them on land

Other Differences Between Sea Lions and Seals


Want to differentiate these animals from each other in a jiffy? Check out the shape of their heads. Sea lions have external ears that are small flaps. You can resemble it to cat ears. Seals don't have flaps (this doesn't mean they are deaf). They have tiny ear-holes on either sides of their heads.


With the kind of fin described briefly in the given table, you can consider seals to prefer the water and sea lions to lean a bit more towards the land. Seals really have a hard time moving on land with those fins. Thus, fins act as a key variation in these two species.


Excluding elephant seals, seals usually weigh between 100-400 lb. Elephant seals can weigh as much as 5000 lb. Sea lions usually weigh between 500-800 lb, but the Streller's sea lion can weigh up to 2000 lb.

Environmental Behavior

Marine biologists have studied that sea lions are much more social as compared to their cousins; they are far more vocal as well. They have a loud, somewhat barking voice.
Sea lions are the animals spotted in number on beaches and harbors. They are most commonly seen on the coastlines of northern California. Seals, on the contrary, make a low grunting sound.