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 turtle and monk seal sleeping on a beach. NOAA teams recently departed to study and protect Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles in the remote islands of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photo: NOAA Fisheries.
Two monk seals resting near rock walls on a on public beach. Endangered Hawaiian monk seal RK96 and her pup Lōliʻi rest near a rock wall at Kaimana Beach in Waikīkī. NOAA plans to relocate the pup after weaning, in the interest of safety and to allow him to grow up as a wild seal with less human interaction. Credit: Hawaii Marine Animal Response.
False killer whale catching fish above water. A member of the false killer whale main Hawaiian Islands insular population catches a mahimahi. Credit: Cascadia Research/Robin W. Baird.

Research

Peer-Reviewed Research

Sighting Patterns Reveal Unobserved Pupping Events To Revise Reproductive Rate Estimates for Hawaiian Monk Seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands

We used sighting reports to describe female breeding biology and reproductive success in the main…

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

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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Species

15 species match your filter criteria.