EARED SEALS, FUR SEALS, AND SEA LIONS – Otariidae

EARED SEALS, FUR SEALS, AND SEA LIONS

EARED SEALS, FUR SEALS, AND SEA LIONS FACTS

Otariids, eared seals, have streamlined, smooth, bodies that allow them to move easily through water. A layer of blubber, or fat, provides insulation. The dog-like head has small external flaps for ears. Long whiskers are sensors for finding food and alerting against predators. Flippers can be turned forward for walking on land. In water, the front flippers function as oars, while the back flippers steer and provide balance. Males are two to four times larger than females.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Otariids haul out on land near the waters they inhabit, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

EARED SEALS, FUR SEALS, AND SEA LIONS HABITAT

When breeding or molting, shedding fur, otariids gather on rocky coastlines, sandy and gravel beaches, and caves. They also breed in mainland areas in Africa, Argentina, and Peru.

EARED SEALS, FUR SEALS, AND SEA LIONS DIET

Otariids feed on krill, a small shrimp-like animal, fish, crustaceans like shrimps, crabs, and lobsters, mollusks such as clams, mussels, squid, and octopuses, and penguins. A small fur seal weighing 110 pounds (50 kilograms) consumes about 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 to 2.3 kilograms) of food per feeding.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Otariids are active both day and night. Expert divers, they swim to the deepest parts of the ocean floor to forage, find food. They breed annually, except for the Australian sea lion that breeds every seventeen-and-a-half months. Some species migrate far to rookeries, breeding colonies. Females give birth to one pup a year.

OTARIIDS AND PEOPLE

In the nineteenth century, fur seals were hunted for their fur, meat, and blubber. Today fishermen consider seals as competitors for fish. Seals’ body parts may be used as aphrodisiacs, believed to increase sexual desire, or ornaments. Seals may be threatened by pollution caused by humans.

CONSERVATION STATUS

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the United States classify the Steller sea lion as Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. They are at risk due to extensive commercial fishing of pollock, its major prey fish, human pollution, accidental tangling in commercial fishing gear, and hunting by humans.

The IUCN lists many otariids as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. The Galápagos fur seal is vulnerable due to parasites and predators. The Juan Fernández fur seal is threatened by a limited population as a result of inbreeding. Guadalupe fur seals are vulnerable because of excessive harvesting. Northern fur seals are endangered by habitat loss or degradation due to human activities. Hooker’s sea lions are at risk due to accidental entanglement in fishing gear and human hunting. Finally the Galápagos sea lion is vulnerable as a result of El Niño events, illegal hunting, and tangling in fishing gear.