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

Fisherman feeding a Steller sea lion. A fisherman feeds a Steller sea lion.
gray seal pokes its head out of the water Gray seal swimming in a Beverly, Massachusetts pond. Photo Credit: Seacoast Science Center
A view of the cliffs of Aquinnah and Gay Head Light, Martha's Vineyard A view of the cliffs of Aquinnah and Gay Head Light, Martha's Vineyard. Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Multimedia

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette off Maui in 2004. NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette off Maui in 2004. Homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii, NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette is a multipurpose oceanographic research vessel that conducts fisheries assessments, physical and chemical oceanography research, marine mammal and marine debris surveys. The ship operates throughout the central and western Pacific Ocean. Credit: NOAA/Ray Boland.

Research

Protected Species Gear Research

We work closely with the commercial fishing industry to reduce harmful interactions with marine mammals, turtles, and other protected species.

Developing Viable On-Demand Gear Systems

On-Demand gear development at the Center continues to evolve with the help of industry.

Borrow from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Gear Library

The gear library is a collection of on-demand or “ropeless” systems, built with help and donations from environmental and academic organizations, that we lend to fishermen for testing.

Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species

We conduct surveys and develop abundance and distribution models to better understand how protected species such as whales, dolphins, and sea turtles use our waters.

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.

750x500-monk-seal-on-beach-istock.jpg