Marcia Strykowski

Seal or Sea Lion?

Have you ever wondered what the differences are between a seal and a sea lion?

Seal post 3Seals have small earholes and short, hairy front flippers with a claw on each toe. On land, they move by wiggling along on their bellies like caterpillars, with their hind flippers straight out. Seals swim by steering with fore flippers  and powering with hind flippers. They are more streamlined in water. Their whiskers are rounded and their grunts are usually soft-spoken.

Although sometimes with a mate, seals can be more solitary than sea lions who are usually hanging out in large groups. 

Seal post 4Sea lions have the following characteristics: External visible earflaps and long hairless fore flippers. Their hind flippers rotate underneath so they are able to walk on land. They swim underwater using their fore flippers like wings. Sea Lions have long smooth whiskers and can bark quite loud.

Seal post 1

A year or so ago I had an opportunity to participate in a seal release where healthy seal pups return to the ocean after their wounds have healed. Here’s a link to my seal release adventure.

Seal post 2

Although it can be exciting to see seals in the wild, please keep your distance. They may have come ashore merely to relax or because they need help, but it’s better to call your local authorities. About the time period of my first novel, Call Me Amy, which features Pup the harbor seal, the Marine Mammal Protection Act went into effect. This law prohibits the taking of marine mammals without a permit.

There is one more marine mammal in the pinniped family and I bet you can guess who that is!Pacific_walrus_bull_odobenus_rosmarus


  1. Good summary! In the Galapagos Islands, it gets a little confusing, because there are two pinniped species, “fur seals” and “sea lions,” but they both have external ears! The “fur seals” are really more closely related to sea lions than true seals. They’re protected by law as well, like the harbor seals.


    • Oh, interesting. And here I was thinking the ears were the best bet for identifying. I’ll have to research fur seals. Thanks so much for adding your knowledge!


  2. I knew when I saw the title of your post that it would include cute photos. 🙂 Thanks for the info!


  3. Never thought about the difference. Thanks. Yes both are quite cute!


  4. Bette Norton

    I love learning more about the seals and sea lions! As members of the Boston Aquarium we enjoy many visits to watch the seals, fur seals and the sea lions at play. There is nothing cuter than a seal! A great post! Pup would be proud! 🙂


  5. I didn’t know the differences between the two. But I think seals are much cuter! =) Such sweet little faces.


  6. Ashley

    I didn’t know this, very interesting! That first picture is how I pictured Pup would look, very cute!!


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