Seals & Sea Lions

Seals and sea lions belong to a group of marine mammals called pinnipeds, which means fin or flipper-footed. These animals live in the ocean, but are able to come on land for long periods of time. Some species have evolved the ability to hold their breath for up to two hours and dive to depths of more than 6,500 feet when looking for food.

There are two families of pinnipeds: Phocids and Otariids. Phocids are also known as earless seals or “true” seals. They have ear holes, but no external ear flaps. They also have small front flippers and move on land by flopping along on their bellies. At sea, these seals move their rear flippers back and forth like a fish's tail to propel themselves through the water. Phocids include the harbor seal and Hawaiian monk seal.

Otariids, also known as eared seals, include sea lions and fur seals such as the Steller sea lion and the northern fur seal. Unlike true seals, they have external ear flaps. Their front flippers are large, and on land, they are able to bring all four flippers underneath their bodies and walk on them. Otariids propel themselves in the water by paddling their front flippers and using their rear flippers to steer. 

All seals and sea lions are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and some are also listed under the Endangered Species Act. Together with our partners, we work to study, protect, and conserve these unique marine mammals and their habitats.


Species News

Diana Pike on the right with NOAA Fisheries colleague on the left on the beach with a rainbow in the background Diane and colleague Mark Sullivan of NOAA Fisheries on a hike out to La'au Point, Moloka'i. Credit: NOAA Fisheries.
Picture of Jamie Thomton on a beach in Jamie Thomton in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Jamie Thomton in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Credit: NOAA Fisheries.
Adult monk seal and newborn pup on a public beach. Hawaiian monk seal RK96 and her pup rest in Waikīkī. Credit: Hawaii Marine Animal Response.

Research

SWFSC Stranding Collections

What we collect and how tissues are used 

Marine Mammal Life History

Data collected from stranded and bycaught marine mammals are critical to understanding their life history

SWFSC Stranding Investigations

Investigating trends in marine mammals strandings

Gulf of Alaska Climate Integrated Modeling Project

Anticipating and Adapting to Climate Change The Gulf of Alaska ecosystem supports valuable and diverse marine fisheries, annually producing $1.3-2.1 billion dollars first wholesale value, and many other important recreational and subsistence uses…

Insight

Viewing Marine Life

Watching marine animals in their natural habitat can be a positive way to promote conservation and respect for animals and their environment.

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