Who's Who: Individual Eared Seals

Last time we went over some ways to distinguish the Northern fur seals from the California sea lions in our marine mammal center. Today, we're going to learn how to identify each animal. 

Step two: Let's talk size

Once you know which species you're looking at, the next way to narrow it down is by size. Some of our animals are still growing, so this will change as they get older.

Let's start with the Northern fur seals. Currently, from largest to smallest, there's Commander, followed by Ursula, Chiidax and finally Kitovi. Adult males can grow up to 600 pounds! This is why Commander is the largest. He is currently our only adult male. In comparison, adult females, like Ursula, reach only 100–120 pounds when full grown. Chiidax turned 2 years old this year. It won't be long before he's bigger than the adult females. Because of this, size is not the only way to tell our animals apart.

Our two California sea lions, Zoe and Sierra, are both smaller than Commander, but larger than all the rest of the fur seals. Female California sea lions average around 250 pounds when full grown. At 5 years old, Sierra and Zoe are young adults just under 200 pounds.

Step three: Individual characteristics

The last way to narrow down who's who, is by a few distinguishing characteristics. It can take some time to pick up on differences. Here are a few that the training staff has picked out:

In addition to being the largest on exhibit, he has longer hair on the back on his neck.

Ursula has a light patch of fur on her chest, and medium length whiskers.

Chiidax vs. Kitovi
These are our two smallest fur seals.  They both have black whiskers and lighter patches of fur on the chest and cheeks.
Chiidax has longer ears that stick way out. He is stocky and little larger than Kitovi.

Kitovi is more petite and sleek looking.

Sierra vs. Zoe
These two may be the most challenging to tell apart, even for their trainers. They are the same age and look very similar physically.

Zoe is currently the heavier of the two. If you get a good look at her face
(good luck, she is rarely still unless sleeping) you may notice
a dip in her snout before the end of her nose.

Sierra has a slightly flatter nose.

Even though our sea lions look a lot alike, they have very distinct personalities, mannerisms and even vocalizations. As trainers, we spend a lot of time getting to know our animals and use these in addition to their physical characteristics to tell them apart.

Watch and listen to this video to hear the difference between the vocalizations of Sierra and Zoe.

Now that you know what to look for, test your skills and see if you can tell who is who during your next visit to the Aquarium!

— Vanessa and Lindsay


Who's Who?: Eared Seal Edition

Here's question we often get at the Marine Mammal Center: how do we tell our animals apart?

This blog is meant to help you do just that. Follow along for some helpful hints you can use next time you visit our flippered friends! The Marine Mammal Center exhibit is home to two California sea lions and seven Northern fur seals.

Step one: Which species?

Are you looking at a fur seal or a sea lion? This can be tricky because Northern fur seals and California sea lions share characteristics that land them both in a category called eared seals! There are many ways that sea lions are similar to the fur seals, but where they differ will help you decipher who is who.

So what's the major difference? FUR! The Northern fur seals at the Aquarium generally have a darker color to their fur than the sea lions. When they are wet, fur seals look black, while the sea lions look brown.

Fur seals
Sea lions

When dry, the fur seals lounging on the deck at the marine mammal center look more brown, and their sea lion neighbors will look a golden brown or blonde color.

Fur seals

Sea lions

Another noticeable difference is the size of the hind flippers. Fur seals have a lot of extra cartilage on their flippers past the bone. This allows them to reach anywhere they need to with their giant flippers in order to groom their fur coat. After all, fur seals have the second thickest coat of fur on the planet. Sea lions have hair as well, but it doesn't need as much maintenance because they rely mostly on blubber to keep warm instead of fur. This means that sea lions don't need such long hind flippers.

 This photo shows the hind flippers of a Northern fur seal.
This photo shows the hind flippers of a California sea lion.

Looking at the photos of sea lions vs. fur seals, can you find any other ways to tell them apart?

If you can tell the sea lions apart, you’ve reached expert level in seal identification. Tune in tomorrow for more tips that'll help you determine who's who.

— Vanessa and Lindsay


Molty time of year

Ahh, molt.  The time of year where the fur balls are flying, the seals just want to sleep, and that glorious new coat is slowly, but surely, coming in. Molt season is different for each species and happens once a year.  

Smoke mid-molt
At the New England Aquarium, Atlantic harbor seals molt July/August, California sea lions molt Sept/Oct, and the Northern fur seals molt Oct/Nov. It is most obvious on the harbor seals, as you can see patches of old and new hair.  

Chiidax the Northern fur seal
The sea lions and fur seals mainly drop hairballs everywhere, and your hand is basically a mitten after touching their bodies.

Commander after a little rub during molting season

During molt, the seals are very tired and sleep quite a bit—it's hard work growing in your new coat!  

Zoe and Sierra the California sea lions, still snuggling

Once done, the harbor seals have a shiny, silver coat. The fur seals are more golden and the sea lions blonde. During the year, their fur protects the seals and sea lions' skin and keeps the fur seals warm.  Over time, the older fur needs to be replaced so it can do its job well.  

Come by the Aquarium to see all the molty (in)action!

Zoe and Sierra, fur balls and new coats

Seals and sea lions aren't the only animals that molt. Check out these posts:


A nose by any other name...

The Northern fur seals' scientific name is Callorhinus ursinus. Ursinus means "bear-like" and Callorhinus means "beautiful nose".  So you could call them a beautiful-nosed bear and be somewhat correct! Well, I think their noses are pretty cute—what do you think? Do you have a favorite?