Seals are interesting animals, aren’t they? I’ve always found myself fascinated by them because of their chosen habitat and the fact that many of them are quite adorable. Let’s take some time to learn more about those unique animals here.
Just like humans, seals are also classified as mammals, but they’re semi-aquatic, meaning they spend a lot of time in the water. Seals live near the water, and they can commonly be found in Antarctica. Certain species of seals also live along the coastlines of Asia as well as North and South America.
Interesting Facts about Seals
- Seals are among the animals known as pinnipedia.
- 33 species of seals are currently known.
- Seals and sea lions are different animals.
- Seals are capable of sleeping underwater.
- A seal’s whiskers are useful for hunting.
- Seals can eat 10 pounds of food in one day.
- Seals get their water from the food they eat.
- Seals can live up to 30 years.
The Seal Family
Seals belong to the category of animals known as pinnipedia. For those curious, pinnipedia translates to fin-footed. The pinnipedia category can be further divided into three smaller groups.
First off, you have the Odobenidae family. The Odobenidae family is made up of walruses, according to National Geographic.
Next up, you have the Otariidae family. Included in the Otariidae family are the fur seals and sea lions. They are also known as eared seals.
The final group included in the pinnipedia category is Phocidae. This is the family that the earless or true seals belong to. Notably, earless seals actually have ears, but they’re hidden under their skin.
One more thing to note here is that there are actually numerous species of pinnipeds currently known. 33 of them are currently known. If you’re just focusing on the members of the Phocidae family, there are 18 species under it.
Differentiating between Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses
Given the fact that they all belong to the same animal category, it may be a bit difficult to differentiate seals, sea lions, and walruses from one another.
Walruses are actually pretty easy to differentiate from their cousins. For starters, walruses tend to be bigger than both seals and sea lions. According to the National Park Service, some walruses even tip the scales at over 3000 pounds.
You can also tell if you’re looking at a walrus by looking for tusks. Those tusks are hard to miss, given their size.
Differentiating between seals and sea lions is a bit more difficult, which is why they often get confused for one another.
You may not have to do much to tell them apart, however. Their behavior could give away if they’re a seal or a sea lion.
Sea lions tend to be noisy and bark a lot. In contrast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted that seals prefer to express themselves via grunts. Seals also tend to spend more time in the water compared to sea lions.
Don’t forget about the note about the ears from earlier. Sea lions have prominently displayed ears while seals do not.
Seals and the Water
The relationship seals have with the water is truly fascinating. They are perfectly capable of staying in the water for extended periods of time if need be.
Seals can turn to the water for just about everything they need.
Finding food is not an issue for sea-loving seals.
You’ve seen those whiskers on seals, right? They aren’t just for show. Seals actually use them whenever they’re looking for food.
Those seal whiskers have an acute sense of touch, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That acute sense of touch is useful because it helps the seals hunt for food underwater. A seal can use its whiskers to detect vibrations in the water and check if there’s potential food nearby.
Notably, though, seals don’t have to just rely on those whiskers to find food in the water. They can see just fine underwater. Their eyesight even improves underwater compared to how it functions when they are on land.
Seals are also capable of staying underwater if they want to. They have plenty of blood flowing through their bodies, which allows them to carry more oxygen. Because of the amount of oxygen in their bloodstream, they can stay in the water for a long time without having to come up for air.
The other thing that helps seals stay underwater for so long is their ability to control their heart rate. They can slow down their heart rate by up to 80 percent.
Those abilities allow seals to stay and even sleep underwater. Some seals are even capable of staying underwater for up to two hours.
Seals and Their Diet
Seals have a fondness for fish. They will go through the waters in search of their favorite treats. If they’re having trouble hunting down fish, seals are willing to settle for other forms of marine life. They are also content to dine on squid, octopus, and various other sea creatures.
There’s also a species of seal that has quite a confusing name. It’s known as the crabeater seal, and from that name, you’d think that it eats crabs primarily. Crabeaters seals have no such diet, though, and instead, they dine on small crustaceans by using their teeth as special filters.
Seals also have a reputation for being big eaters. The species known as the gray seal can eat up to 10 pounds of food in just a single day, according to Live Science. They can make that food last, though, as they may stop eating for the next few days or even weeks in some cases.
As for water, seals don’t actually drink the water around them. Drinking seawater could cause the seals to fall ill. Instead, the seals get the water they need to survive from the food they eat.
The Seal Lifespan
Seals have been around for a very long time. The fossil records scientists have collected indicate that they have been around for about 30 million years. That means more than a few seals have managed to successfully evade their natural predators, including sharks and whales.
Focusing more on modern seals, the current life expectancy for one is in the range of 25 to 30 years. Female seals also tend to live longer than their male counterparts.
A baby seal will grow inside a mother seal longer than a baby human will inside a woman. Female seals will carry their babies for about 10 months on average. Prior to giving birth, a female seal will likely head to the shore to dig out a nest.
Baby seals will stay very close to their mothers for a while.
Also known as pups, the baby seals will struggle to fend for themselves because they cannot hunt for food just yet. Baby seals lack the fur that will make it easier for them to move around in the water. They will have to depend on mom for food during that time.
It will take about one month before the pups are able to grow that fur and start hunting themselves. Baby seals will not leave their mother’s side even after they learn how to hunt. It will take about eight years for the pups to fully mature, and during that time, they tend to stay close to their mothers.
Is the Seal Population in Danger?
Sadly, the seal population has been under threat for a long time.
In the past, seals were popular targets for hunters due to their fur. Seals were targeted so much that certain species are no longer around today.
Today, the greater threat to the seal population is climate change.
Due to the melting ice caps, certain species of seals now have a harder time finding suitable places to live. They are also at greater risk of being hunted down by polar bears that are searching for more food.
Polar bears are not the only predators that seals have to worry about. The warmer waters have also changed how other known seal predators such as sharks behave. More sharks are now patrolling places where seals live, and that’s leading to a greater decrease in the seal population.
Icy habitats that seals have long used for breeding are also being destroyed by the effects of climate change. Seals have also been affected by the waste materials that have floated out to the world’s oceans.
How Are Seals Being Protected?
The United States government has taken steps to preserve the seal population.
Seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Marine Mammal Protection Act outlaws any kind of behavior that constitutes the harassment of seals. Any type of action that may cause a change in a seal’s normal pattern of behavior can be considered as a form of harassment.
Certain species of seals are also protected under the Endangered Species Act. That Act makes harassing seals illegal, and it also outlaws the transport or selling of the aforementioned animals.
Protecting seals that are considered as endangered species is very important. Seals that are designated as endangered species must be protected because they are close to extinction.