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

Picture of Green sea turtles and a Hawaiian monk seal at Mokumanamana. Green sea turtles and a Hawaiian monk seal at Mokumanamana in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Brenda Becker.
Photo of Katie Sweeney, holding a remote control console, and Brian Fadely, holding a drone, on a Bogoslof Island beach.. Katie Sweeney and Brian Fadely prepare to launch a drone on Bogoslof Island, Alaska. Photo: NOAA Fisheries.

Research

Southwest Fisheries Science Center Stock Assessments

Population assessments are a key component of marine resource management. These assessments allow us to evaluate and report the status of managed fisheries, marine mammals, and endangered/threatened species under the authorities of the Magnuson-Stevens…

Feature Story

Studying Northern Fur Seals in Remote Alaska

In summer 2019, a team of NOAA Fisheries scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center headed to Bogoslof, a remote island in Alaska’s Aleutian Island’s chain. Bogoslof is an active volcano that erupted 52 times over the span of nine months, with…

NOAA Live! Alaska

NOAA Live! Alaska is a series of webinars that connects NOAA scientists and partners with students, teachers, and Alaska communities.

Feature Story

Rare Albino Fur Seal Pup Stands Out

NOAA Fisheries Affiliate Vladimir Burkanov discovered an albino fur seal on a recent research trip to the remote island of Tyuleny in the Sea of Okhotsk, Russia.   The reddish-gold pup has very light colored eyes and pink flippers. It was born in…

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.

Monk seal on beach. The sign in the foreground instructs people to walk around the seal.

Species

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