Monday, December 16, 2013

Harbor Seals or Sea Lions? And Swimming With them In San Diego

La Jolla, San Diego, CA

Some of the common sights you will see in San Diego waters, most especially in La Jolla, are the harbor seals and sea lions. 
 Sea Lions or Harbor Seals? @ La Jolla, San Diego, CA
 Sea Lions or Harbor Seals? @ La Jolla, San Diego, CA

Could you tell from the pictures above which are the sea lions, and which are the harbor seals? How about finding what are different between the two groups?

1. Differing flippers: The sea lions have longer hindflippers that they could rotate allowing them to assume a sit-like position and walk on land. The harbor seals have shorter hindflippers that are angled backwards and not capable of rotation. They could not use their hindflippers for sitting or walking, thus they rest by lying flat on the ground, most of the time on their belly.

The foreflippers of sea lions are longer and skinnier. The seals' foreflippers are stubby and hairy.

2. Differing ears: Sea lions have smal earflaps that you could see, true seals look earless because they only have earholes.

Could you now tell which of the two pictures above are the sea lions and which are the harbor seals from the differences I mentioned? If not, read on, as I will add more differences in this post. Meanwhile, let me share with you a common sea lion and harbor seal behavior that I shared with a visiting tourist who was planning to snorkel in La Jolla Cove. A lot of tourists (and locals too), usually find delight in seeing the harbor seals and sea lions in their natural habitat. They are sure cute and fun to look at. However, they can be intimidating for those who are swimming near them for the very first time. 
Snorkeling at La Jolla Cove

A few months back, while I and hubby were rinsing our goggles, prepping them against fogging, a guy who was all geared up to swim and snorkel came near us and asked: "will you get into the water with those seals?" He was actually referring to the sea lions. The one swimming back and forth makes a lot of noise, characteristic of sea lions. Sea lions make a lot of noise, whereas seals are adorably silent! :)

Hubby told him, "yes, we'll do. Those noisy ones swimming are sea lions."

The guy replied, "Don't the sea lions attack people?"

Hubby replied, "They don't, if you leave them be. They most especially won't if they are in the water!"

The guy looked like wanting an explanation why sea lions won't attack in the water, so I told him, "Sea lions and seals do not attack people in the water. The water is their world, they feel very safe there and are very confident with their survival skills there. Sometimes, they would swim past you, somersault in front of you, kind of probably showing off their superior swimming and acrobatic skills in water, or it may be their way of making fun of us in the water, because for them, we are VERY POOR SWIMMERS! :) "

The guy smiled, feeling more confident now getting into the water, but before he went to the water, hubby added, "oh before we forget, don't make a mistake to come near them on rock or on shore or  anywhere out of water, they could attack you!"

The guy looked at me with confused stare, so I told him, "Yes, on land, on rock, anywhere out of water, the sea lions don't feel as strong as they are in the water! Just like some humans, when they are weak, they act out strong to hide the inner weakness! Sea lions somehow could be like that. When they feel weak, they feel less safe, so they are more prone to defend themselves when they feel like you are invading their space and they misinterpret your proximity as harm. When they defend, it could be mistaken as attacking. That behavior could be seen on land where they feel less confident of their skills. Be careful not to come near them on rocks, like what those other people are trying to do. When they haul out on rocks it means they need rest and space."

The guy said, "very interesting! I did not know sea lions behave like men too, gracious and playful when they are confident, yet, could be A BULLY WHEN THEY ARE WEAK!"

The guy thanked both of us, and looked very happy with what he learned, and then, happily and confidently jumped into the water and swam away. :) 

Anyway, the above video is from one of our snorkeling weekends at La Jolla Cove, where in the early part, you will see me pointing out to the sea lion swimming, and notice how long are their flippers. I've encountered several times sea lions in water, and they are very friendly. Once, I felt like guilty for disregarding a sea lion in front of me, who was looking at me with like a sad face, like telling me, "hey, I am here, why do you look further?" That time, my sight was locked to the dolphin farther from me, I was mesmerized by the dolphin that I was not paying attention to the sea lion right in front of me. It may just be my imagination, but I felt like when I finally looked at the sea lion, he looked  and swam away sad. I said to myself a little bit loud hoping the the sea lion could hear, "So sorry sea lion, I love you too!" :) Hahaha, there was a "love you too!, coz I love dolphins!"

Anyway, let me give you a quiz now identifying harbor seal and sea lions basing from their appearance. Remember, sea lions rest like in sitting position, whereas harbor seals lie flat on their belly because they could not rotate their shorter flippers. Also, you won't see earflaps in seals because harbor seals only have earholes. Also, seals are more hairy or furry than sea lions, they may be gray in color, black, or spotted brown. Whereas sea lions are brown in color. If you are in La Jolla, obviously you could identify them, sea lions are noisy, VERY NOISY, whereas harbor seals are quiet and peaceful!

Is this a seal or sea lion?
could you see visible earflaps here? if so, is this seal or sea lion?

do you see earflaps? if you can't, then is this seal or sea lion?

do they use their longer flippers to rest on sitting like position? if so, what are they? seals or sea lion?

Do you see thick wet fur? What color are they? Could you identify the mom and pup pair from the color of their fur?

Still confused what are they? Please don't be like this harbor seal scratching his head from confusion or from disappointment I gave the identity away.
Why oh why Betchai Did you Give my Identity away? Shhhhh, everyone, I am not a seal! I am a sea lion! :) Betchai was wrong in saying I am a seal! Don't think just because I can't sit, have spotted fur and lost my earflaps that I am a seal. Could you see my beautiful nails? Visible, beautiful nails is one of my distinguishing characteristics too, and Betchai did not tell you if who has beautiful, more pronounced nails! :)

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  1. wow! This was inspiring, informative, interesting and enjoyable all at the same time, betchai. I took the quiz towards the end and it seems like 1 and 3 are sea lions? I hope I am right.

  2. i enjoyed and at the same time learned a lot on this post, but i am not going to swim with either of the two creatures around, i am scared

  3. I loved the pictures and other views around this place...La Jolla Cove, the sea lions too, beautiful!

  4. So I am confused.

    Am I going to act like I am strong or weak?

  5. they were sea lions? Because of the nails?

  6. hmmmm i can tell the sea lions were on the bottom picture and the harbor seals is on the top, i bet it feels great to see them and observe how their life is working.

  7. wow this is truly amazing! these creatures look wonderful, sea lions really look friendly:)

  8. I've never seen so many sea lions and harbor seals in one photo or sitting while reading. Now I know that they are actually different, thanks to this post.

  9. You really take great photos.

    Just from looking, I won't be able to tell which is which.

    This time, I hope this comment gets through without issues :-)

  10. Sea lion or harbor seal, they are so beautiful.

  11. You can actually swim with them? That's so cool. Great photos you got here.

  12. lovely photos of seals and sea lions. One distinct feature to differentiate both species is one have appendages while the other have none. Eh who then has 'feet'? lol

    1. haha, they both have appendages Donald, only that one of them can walk with all 4 appendages, which one is that? :)

  13. Fantastic photos of the sea lions and harbor seals, Betchai! Your explanation of their differences are fantastic!

  14. Breathtaking photos as usual, Te Betchai! I am not scared with the sea lions anymore. I was able to hold one when we watched a sea lion's show at Ocean Park Manila last year. They are such stage performers. Sobrang naaliw ako sa kanila!

  15. Those sea lions are cute as if they’re always smiling (Playful look). I hope to visit such a nice place like that and experience a once in a lifetime adventure.

  16. Awww! Look how adorable the sea lions are :-) They look so cuddly and playful :-) Sis, if we ever go to San Diego, definitely will contact you :-) Thank you again for sharing beautiful pictures mwah :-)

  17. Fun to learn the differences between sea lions and harbor seals! Beautiful pictures and video! :)

  18. Fascinating lesson. I would love to swim with them.

  19. I am full of fascinations! Ms. Betchai, Triz will definitely enjoy the lessons that you give out in every adventure that you go to and Tiara will be the daring one who will join you in every step you take! What I am saying is that Triz can enjoy all the beauty and the lessons that she can get from a trip just by watching and letting her mind do the wandering and imagining. While Tiara won't step herself from actually exploring and taking part in every action that should be enjoyed! As I read and imagine your write-up, I am seeing my two kids' personality and I am amazed! :)

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful escapades! I have only seen a sealion at the Niagara Falls Aquarium performing for the audience. I hope to see lots of them in the future! The kinds that weren't trained to do tricks and acrobats but just in their nature. :)