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Marine Mammal Facts

A “Marine Mammal” is any animal that lives in the ocean, breathes air, gives live birth, nurses their young, and is warm blooded.  Seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, porpoises, manatees, sea otters and even polar bears are considered marine mammals.

All mammals have hair, even marine mammals! For polar bears and some seals and sea lions, the hair acts as insulation to keep them warm.  Other marine mammals, like whales and dolphins only have hair on their faces, or lose their hair after they are born.

Seals, sea lions and walruses are all grouped together in the scientific order Pinnipedia, which is a Latin word meaning “Fin-Footed”.  All pinnipeds have four “fins” or flippers—two in the front, and two in the back.  Some pinnipeds, like sea lions, can use their back flippers for walking.

Many marine mammals rely on a thick layer of fat on their body to keep warm.  This fat is called “blubber”, and can also help by storing energy and streamlining their body to make swimming easier.

Marine Mammals in the United States are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which was introduced in 1972.  This Act makes it against the law for anybody to “harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect” any marine mammal.

Although marine mammals spend most of their time in the water, some can also use the land. Whales, dolphins, porpoises and manatees have to stay in the water, but seals, sea lions, walruses, otters and polar bears can come out of the water to rest, eat, lie in the sun, or breed and give birth.

How do you tell the difference between a Seal and a Sea Lion?

Sea Lion and Fur Seal

Eared seals from the family Otariidae, meaning “little ear”.

The head has small, tiny external ear flaps.

The front flippers are long like wings, no hair and no nails.

The hind flippers are large and like paddles. They are hairless, and are webbed. Nails appear halfway along middle three digits.

They CAN turn their hind flippers forward to move on land.



Earless seals or “true seals” from the family Phocidae

The head has tiny ear holes, no flaps. The front flippers are short and blunt and covered with hair, nails are on the ends.

The hind flippers are same as the front ones, and they CANNOT turn their hind flippers around, so movement is harder for them.




Quiz Time!

Take this marine mammal quiz to see how much you’ve learned. All the answers are on the site somewhere!

  1. What does “Pinniped” mean?
  2. Stellar Sea Lions and Fur Seals all have what sort of ears?
  3. Marine Mammals are protected by Law, so what is it “AGAINST the LAW” for people to do to them?
  4. The Northern Elephant Seal is a frequent or a less frequent visitor to the area?
  5. What Phone Number do you ring to report Marine Mammal Strandings?
  6. Grey Whales can be seen offshore from when to when?
  7. Why must you NOT touch beached Marine Mammals?
  8. The animals may simply be resting on the beach, so you must NOT _______ them or _______ them away
  9. The Northcoast Marine Mammal Center is dedicated to what?
  10. Who does the Center count on the MOST to help with their Rescues and Rehabilitation efforts?

Bonus: Who does the Center rely upon MOST for money to cover Operating Costs, Equipment, and Fish for the Rescued Animals?

YOU and YOUR DONATIONS! For just $10, the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center can feed and house one of our rescued seals for a day. Check out our “Contribute” section to become a Member or donate to Meals for Seals!