by Nathaniel Buechler
Sea lions are categorized into the suborder Pinnipedia in the family Otariidae. The seal and the walrus share this order also. Pinnipeds range in size from 140 lbs (the Baikal seals) to 8,000 lbs (the Elephant seal)! Sea lions are also sometimes referred to as eared seals or fin seals. This is because sea lions have much more fur then seals and have earflaps, where the seal has only ear holes without flaps. The seal has shorter fins and hind flippers too. Seals cannot use their front flippers to help them walk because of the flipper size. The sea lion, however, can walk on land easily because of its large fins.
Pinnipeds are carnivores. Most of the sea lion’s diet is made up of fish. Hunting by night, the sea lion usually grabs it’s prey and swallows it whole! They do not use their nose much, and use their senses of sight and hearing to find food. Like cats, they also use their vibrissae, or whiskers to feel where shellfish may be lying.
The sea lion’s main predators are sharks, orca whales and humans. Most attacks on people by sharks have been an incident when the shark has mistaken a person for a seal or sea lion. (This happens most often when the person is on a surfboard, because the outline makes them look like a pinniped.)
Smell: Sea lions are not able to smell underwater, but their sense of smell on dry land is amazing. Female sea lions use smell to tell which pups are theirs, and males use smell for mating purposes.
Sight: Sea lions may not be able to see in color. We are not sure about that. Perhaps they can see shades of blue and green, the way that dogs see black, white and gray, but nobody knows for sure. In their eyes, they have a tapetum lucidum, which is what cats have that make their eyes glow at night. Having this increases the sea lion’s ability to see well in the dark. When they come out of the water, a thin sheet covers their eyes to protect them from sand and debris.
Sea lions do not have a very good sense of taste. They are close to being able to taste nothing, so they could be eating anything at all, just so long as it smells good.
On land, sea lions sleep like we do at West Sound Academy in the couch corner, often lying on top of their friends. If they are in shallow enough water, they will sleep under the surface and occasionally come up for air. When they are out in deep water, they sleep on the surface with their nose pointing towards the sky.
Sea lions have the ability to stay underwater for an average of eight to twenty minutes! This is because they have a better tolerance for carbon dioxide than we do. Also, oxygen collects in their heart instead of to less vital organs like the air we breathe does. Believe it or not, sea lion’s nostrils are closed when they are relaxed, and the sea lion has to use special muscles to open them and breathe.
Sea lions live mostly in shallow, very cold water, but are spread throughout the world. Only a few ever enter fresh water.
- www.seaworld.org/Pinnipeds/whatarethey. html