Eared Seals (Otariids)


Eared Seals or otariids comprise of 14 species which are divided into seven genera, commonly known as Fur Seals (sub-family arctocephalinae.) and Sea Lions (sub-family otariinae) and The term otariid is derived from the Greek word otarion meaning “little ear.”


The pectoral muscles and fore-flippers of otariids are proportionately much larger than phocids (true seals) They are able to turn their hind legs which enables them to move about on all fours, thus making them highly maneuverable on land (some are able to move over rough terrain almost as fast as a man.) Because of this, there is some argument that they are less adapted to an aquatic lifestyle than true seals, especially since they haul out more frequently. However, this ability also allows them to achieve more maneuverability as well as provides them with greater bursts of speed. The image below will help you to understand this better.

eared seal vs true seal

eared seal vs true seal

More distinguishing characteristics of eared seals

Aside from having small visible external ears, otariids can also be distinguished by the shape of the skull. It is similar to a dogs head and also has well developed canines. Post canine teeth are conical in shape. Adult male otariids can weigh up to six times more than females, with proportionately larger chests, heads and necks. This makes them the most sexually dimorphic animals on earth.

Seal skull

Seal skull


Otariids are carnivorous animals whose diet consists of fish, crustaceans, squid, sea birds and krill. Generally, Sea-lions will feed on larger fish closer to shore, while fur seals will go on lengthy foraging trips quite far out to sea. Fur seals will also feed off a larger variety of smaller prey, diving to depths of up to 400m in search of food.
Breeding is defined by set mating seasons, usually on small rocky islands and occasionally on beaches. Males will arrive first and will defend their territory with aggressive visual and vocal displays and occasional fighting. Dominant males are known as “beach masters.” They will secure as much ground as possible, allowing them to mate with more females. With some species, the males will dominate the females more so than others and have even been known to injure any “uncooperative” females. They can gather a “harem” of up to 50 females.

Fur Seals

  • Family: Otariidae
  • Subfamily: Arctocephalinae
Sea Lions
  • Family: Otariidae
  • Subfamily: Otariinae