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sea lion

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Harp seals, especially the white
pups, were hunted for their fur. In
the 1980s, public outcry stopped
the clubbing of harp seal pups.

All in the family

Pinnipeds are found in many oceans, but most
species prefer the colder waters of the Northern
and Southern hemispheres. Their lives are largely
spent in the water, but they do come ashore to
mate, give birth, molt or avoid predators.
Pinnipeds 101

Today there are 35 species
of pinnipeds. Their ancestors
lived on land and evolved
into marine animals about 50
million years ago. Their closest
living relatives are bears
and mustelids (weasels,
raccoons and skunks).

Seals, sea lions and walruses belong to a group of mammals called pinnipeds, which means “flipper-footed”
in Latin. These warm-blooded, semiaquatic mammals
have sleek, torpedo-shaped bodies and four webbed
flippers. A pinniped’s nostrils close when under
water, and its large eyes help it navigate in dim
light. All the species except the walrus
have short fur.

Location, location

Fur seal

Seals need to
breathe air.
When they
need to, they
chew tunnels
in ice to create breathing

Detail of teeth
Seal teeth are
sharp and pointed,
ideal for catching
ocean prey.

Most pinnipeds are found in
the cold, coastal waters of the
Northern and Southern hemispheres, but some, like the
Galapagos seal or the monk
seal, live near the equator.

Threats & dangers

Seals have few defenses
against natural predators. In
the water, sharks and killer
whales prey on seals. On land,
polar bears hunt them.
Commercial hunting of seals in
the 18th, 19th and early 20th
centuries severely damaged
pinniped populations.
Habitat destruction is an ongoing threat to seal populations.
Coastal development and
commercial fishing contribute
to population declines. Seals
often get tangled up in fishing
lines or in plastic. Plastic is not
biodegradable, so it does not
go away, and over time more
and more of it ends up in the

Pinnipeds are carnivorous. They eat fish, squid or shellfish.
Some will eat other seals.

Earless seals

There are 19 species of earless
seals (sometimes called true
seals or crawling seals). These
seals do not have external ear
flaps, but they do have ears.
This scientific family, Phocidae,
is thought to be the oldest of the
pinniped group.
Unlike other pinnipeds, earless
seals have hind flippers that
are angled toward the rear and
cannot be rotated forward. This
means they cannot use their rear
flippers to walk on land. Instead,
they use their front flippers and
strong stomach muscles to pull
themselves along.
Earless seals are excellent divers and can spend a long time
underwater between breaths.

Endangered species

The Lacs des Loups Marins
harbor seal lives in freshwater
lakes and rivers in Quebec, it is
estimated that just 100 of these
seals remain.
With just 300 left, Finland’s
Saimaa ringed seals are
practically extinct.
The Hawaiian Monk Seal is
highly endangered, with about
1,400 seals left in the wild.

Eared seals

There are 15 species of eared
seals (commonly known as sea
lions or fur seals).
Their scientific name, Otariidae,
is from the Greek and means
“little ear,” referring to their small
external ear flaps.
Fur seals have fur to protect
them from the cold, while sea
lions have extra layers of blubber. Sea lions are vocal and
are sometimes called sea dogs
because of their unique bark.
These are the seals you see
most often at zoos and marine
parks. Captive sea lions often
bond with their trainers and
seem to enjoy performing.


Both male and female walruses
have ivory tusks, which they
use for digging, defense and raking the ocean floors for shellfish.
Their scientific name, Odobenidae, means “tooth walker” and
refers to how they pull themselves onto ice with their tusks.
Walruses eat mostly mollusks
and fish, but they have been
known to eat small seals. A large
walrus can eat 4,000 clams a
day. Males can grow to weigh up
to 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg).
Walruses have special air sacs
in their necks that can inflate to
allow them to float as if they are
wearing life preservers.

California sea
lions and other
pinnipeds can be
aggressive during
mating season.

Banded seal

Bearded seal

Ringed seal

Harp seal

Thick layer
of blubber

Earless and
eared seals
have short fur,
while the walrus doesn't.

Walruses can live
up to 40 years
in the wild. They
often gather in huge
herds. There are
two subspecies:
Atlantic and Pacific.

SOURCES: World Book Encyclopedia, World Book Inc.;;;;;;;

© 2022 Triefeldt Studios, Inc.
Distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication


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