seal, sea lion, or sea otter: how can you tell?

All three are cute-faced, chubby marine mammals that we imagine swirling gracefully through kelp beds and lazily basking in the sun. Chances are, we’ve seen them all at some point whether kayaking morro bay or diving the channel islands. So how do we tell them apart? Can you tell which is which?

It’s a bit bogus, really. And perhaps snobbish. But when an unsuspecting beachgoer points at an otter and shouts, “look, a seal!” it takes everything I have not to go “Ted Mosby” on them and correct their innocent, very wrong selves with a long-winded definition of pinnipeds versus mustelids.

So listen up, folks, so that next time someone calls a sea lion an otter, you can assert your pinniped-mustelid knowledge and sound like the smartest guy on the block– er, beach.

The Pinniped family can be divided into two groups:

Sea Lion 

Seal

visible earflaps

earholes

bark

do not bark 

hindflippers more adapted for walking on land, docks

wiggle onto land with stomach 

blubber

blubber

long front flippers

short front flippers 

long, pointed nose (think balancing a ball at the circus) 

rounded faces with short curly whiskers 

The Mustelid, or weasel family are home to the sea otters

Sea Otters 

use hair for warmth, have as many hairs in one square inch as human’s entire body (up to 1 million per square inch!) NO layer of blubber

smallest marine mammal, but can get up to five feet long! 

use tools, which they store in armpit flaps

wrap themselves in kelp beds while sleeping

Take another look at the top pictures and see if you guessed right, or if you can point out all the differences between a sea lion, sea otter, and seal.
happy sight sea-ing!

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