“Look!  A seal!”  A little boy points excitedly.  Mom, walking nearby peers in the direction her child is pointing.  A sausage-shaped creature lolling just above the surf line blinks back at her.

“Is it a seal, Mommy?”

Is it?

I know this has been a burning question for so many of you.  It’s even tripped up animal expert Randall.  In this video he refers to a seal as a sea lion, incorrectly.  Oh the horror!

Aside from that, it’s a cool video and for an excellent cause too.  Yay Randall!

I know, it’s a huge issue, and I’m here to help.  In a few brief sentences, I’m going to make all of you pinniped experts.

Pinnipeds are aquatic mammals; the name means wing-, or fin-footed.  This group includes seals, sea lions and walruses.  No one has trouble recognizing a walrus.

Big tusks, googly eyes and a huge moustache of sensitive whiskers.  Easy!

Seals and sea lions are just as simple, once you know what to look for.  Just remember, a true seal has no ears.

photo made by: L.Heafne

See how this lil’ cutie above just has a hole immediately behind his right eye?  No external ear flaps for the true seals.  These guys have very short, clawed front flippers, although you can’t see the claws in this pic.  The true seals are incredibly graceful swimmers, but they inch along like fat worms on the beach.  Their front flippers are too short to prop them up very far, and they drag their hind flippers behind them.

Their movement on land may be slug-like, but seals are able to climb and maneuver over obstacles such as rocks and logs.

A sea lion, on the other hand, has external ear flaps.


See how this pretty girl also has long front flippers?  Sea lions can pull all four limbs underneath their body and run down a beach like a dog.  They’re actually pretty quick, faster than you and me over the short distance, so if you ever do see one, or more, on a beach make sure you keep your distance.  Federal law actually prevents you from approaching them; all pinnipeds are covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Do not attempt the following:

Yes, it was the best job in the world.  Harpo was a total sweetie, and he met thousands, quite possibly even millions of people in his years at the San Diego Zoo as an animal ambassador.
So, what is Harpo?

14 Responses

  1. Sea lion!!! 😀 This was the perfect post for the biology nerd in me! Thanks for sharing 😀

    And just curiosity, does Harpo have cataracts in his left eye?

    1. Correct on both! Thanks for playing along. 🙂 Harpo had cataracts in both eyes, he was very old. In the wild, the average life span is usually less than 20 years, but Harpo was 32 when he died.

  2. I think I see the ear flaps, which means he’s a sea lion. For an animal lover like me, this was very cool. Now I can amaze my husband by telling him this little fact.

  3. I love pinnipeds! Harpo’s a sea lion. You did have the greatest job in the world! Tell us how you came by such a wonderful job.

    1. Another pinniped lover! Yeah! I like to say my dog got me my job. I had entered Pagan in a dog show that was being judged by my future supervisor. She remembered me months later when I put in my application since she’d placed Pagan 3rd in a class of over 20, and it was his first show. She was impressed by his behavior, and when she saw my application said “We have to interview her!” The rest is history. 🙂 Pagan got McDonalds for dinner when she told me that story.

Leave a Reply to shayfabbro Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.