Seal vs Sea Lion

Seals vs Sea Lions

The main difference between seals and sea lions is in the flippers and the ear flaps. Sea lions have visible ear flaps and flippers, while seals have tiny flippers that are barely visible. Sea lions also bark loudly, while seals don’t.

Both the animals have some similar physical features and belong to the same suborder called Pinnipeds. Despite these similarities, seals and sea lions are not the same animals. 

Seal vs Sea Lion: Key Differences

Seals vs Sea Lions
18, including ringed seals and elephant seals Number of species  16, including the Steller sea lion and the California sea lion
99 to 7100lb Size  200 to 2200lb
Streamlined body with backward hind flippers Body structure  Rotatable hind flippers and external ear flaps 
Solitary animals prefer to spend most of their time in the water  Social behavior  Choose to live in herds or rafts and spend the most time on the land 
Temperate waters, polar, and subpolar Habitat  Temperate, subpolar, and equatorial waters 

Seals have short ear flippers 

Size of ear flippers   Sea lions have longer ear flippers 

Explaining the Difference Between Seal and Sea Lion

Sea lions and fur seals belong to the family of pinnipeds and are clubbed together in the family of Otariidae. On the other hand, true seals belong to the Phocidae family.

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True seals don’t have external ear flaps, but they have ear holes instead. Sea lions, however, have ears that protrude from their heads.

Sea lions have long flippers and can rotate their back flippers under their bodies, allowing them to walk on land. Seals have short front flippers and can’t rotate their back flippers like sea lions. So, seals flop around on their bellies to move on the land.

Seals weigh between 100 and 7,000 lb., whereas sea lions weigh between 200 and 2200lb. Seal coat colors may vary from brown, black, white, or gray. Sea lions have a black or brown coat.

Habitat and Lifestyle

Sea lions prefer to live in the herd and spend the most time on the shore. Seal lions have hind flippers that rotate forward, helping them crawl easily on land. Their flippers work more like feet, and they can walk on land.

But seals are solitary animals and spend the most time in the water. Seals come out of the water only once a year to mate. Seals’ streamlined bodies help them cut swiftly through the water. Plus, their hind flippers are angled in a way that allows them to propel forward.

Sea lions have a boisterous, loud bark. But, the seal is a quiet animal and makes soft grunts to communicate.

What is a Seal?

Seals are semiaquatic animals, also known as Pinnipeds. There are different families of seals, such as Otariidae, Odobenidae, and Phocidae. Phocidae seals are known as real seals or earless seals.

There are multiple species of seals, but almost fifty species have become extinct until now.

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Common Species of Seals

  • Leopard seal
  • Elephant seal
  • Harbor seal
  • Baikal seal.

Physical Features 

The average lifespan of seals is 25-35 years. Seals can grow from 3 feet to 16 feet in length and weigh from 99lb to 7,100 lb. The Southern elephant seal is the largest and heaviest among all seal species. The Baikal seal weighs only around 100 pounds, so they are the tiniest among all the species.

Seals have a thick layer of fat in their bodies known as blubber that insulates them during cold weather. Their hearing and eyesight are excellent on both land and on water. Plus, their slick, streamlined bodies and streamlined front flippers make swimming easy.

They feed on fish, penguins, clams, crabs, and even smaller seals. Seals prefer to live in water and only come to the shore during mating to escape predators or give birth. Both the male and female seals become sexually mature between the age of three to seven. At the reproductive age, male seals weigh around 165 pounds, and female seals around 110 pounds. 

Seals vs Sea Lions - Seals are much smaller.
Seals are much smaller than sea lions, and they lack noticeable ear flippers.

What is a Sea Lion?

Sea lions are a part of the Otariidae family, and they are also a type of Pinnipeds.

Common Species of Seals

  • Australian sea lion
  • Galapagos sea lion
  • New Zealand sea lion 

Sea lions have ear flippers and a larger body size.

Physical Features

The average lifespan of a sea lion is twenty to thirty years. Sea lions grow approximately 8 feet long and weigh around 660lb on average. The females grow about 6 feet long and weigh about 220lb.

Sea lions are noticeably smaller than seals, and their maximum weight can go up to 2200. Sea lions are dark brown to black, but the coat color gets lighter as they grow.

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Sea lions eat fish, sardines, herring salmons, octopus, squids, etc. These marine mammals eat up to 50 species of animals. They are excellent hunters and fast swimmers, making their prey quite impossible to flee.

Male sea lions fast during mating as they refuse to leave their territory. Females show submissive gestures to initiate mating.

If you’ve enjoyed comparing seals vs sea lions, learn more about where they live in our post comparing seas and oceans.


Vanessa is passionate about written communication, especially after beginning her career as a middle school English teacher. She’s an experienced content marketer as well. Vanessa loves to analyze, compare, and contrast, which is why she writes for ContrastHub. Besides writing, Vanessa is a wife, mom, entrepreneur, spicy food enthusiast, comedy nerd and lifelong learner.

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