Posts Tagged ‘sea lion’



It’s funny how some words fall out of use when they actually do have some great clarifying utility.

One of the hardest concepts to understand is that the creatures we call “fur seals” and “sea lions” aren’t actually “seals” in the same way we understand harbor or gray seals.

In modern English, these animals get called “eared seals,” which is confusing term in itself. The other seals do have ears, of course, but only fur seals and sea lions have external ear flaps. The eared seals can also pull their hind flippers under their bodies and walk, while the “earless” seals are forced to drag their bellies around on ground with their front flippers.

We currently classify the earless seals as “phocids” (easy to remember if you know the French word for seal is phoque). The eared seals are called “otariids,” which is easy to remember if you think that otters have ears and these are the seals that are most like otters.

But I have wondered where this word came from. Obviously phocid came from Latin by way of the Ancient Greek word “phōke.”  I don’t see much use in using this word in English, though in the Romance languages, some variant of this word is the actual word for seal.

The name for the eared seals is otariid. If you know your Greek, ōtos means ear, and ōtaros means “large-eared.” Because these animals have external ear flaps. they have larger ears, which is also another way to remember the two groups

The French use the word “otarie” for these animals, and as I was going through some of the nineteenth century naturalist accounts of these seals, I noticed that an Anglicized word “otary” was used for them.

The term has since fallen into disuse, but it might be necessary to revive it. A fur seal or a sea lion really isn’t the same thing as a seal in my mind. They swim and move so differently that they really aren’t in the same ball park. To me, a seal will always be an animal made up of blubber into a sausage that can barely move on land, while an otary is an animal that can run and swim.

Using otary for these animals divides them better cognitively from the seals.

But then I don’t think most people would lose sleep over calling a sea lion a seal, even if it’s not really a seal.

The English language first evolved in a place where there are no otaries, but when these animals were noticed by English-speakers, there was attempt to classify them as being like the gray and harbor seals that they knew so well.

But I think this leads to a confusion of two quite different families.

Maybe this is me being a nerd.

But I think it’s time to use the term “otary” in our common language.





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Steller sea lions on a buoy just off from the Point Retreat Lighthouse. This body of water is called the “Lynn Canal,” which is actually fjord. It was named by George Vancouver, and it was supposed to be called “Lynn Channel,” but transcription error led to it being called a canal. But glaciers made it, not canal diggers.




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Apparently when you own a real bulldog, you still have a dog that can hunt and kill.

Who knew?

This dog has been described as a bulldog or an “American bulldog,”

Whatever it is, it’s still a predatory mammal of the order Carnivora.

That means most of its ancestors killed bigger things than sea lion pups to survive. Furthermore, it’s some kind of real bulldog, and those dogs were used to control half-wild medieval cattle, bait bulls, catch wild boar, and bay up brown bears.  They have been bred for powerful jaws and strong prey drive.

Even if this dog is sweet and gentle with people and other dogs, it is still going to have instincts and the prowess to be an effective predator.

Without training to teach them to avoid hunting certain animals, most dogs will hunt them.

My guess is that certain quarters will be spouting about how dangerous this dog is.

This particular dog not that dangerous.

She’s no more dangerous than this one:


The only difference is Miley killed a baby rabbit, which is from a species that isn’t protected by law, and this bulldog killed a baby sea lion, which is protected by federal law.

Many people get freaked out when dogs exhibit predatory behavior that actually results in the kill.

I find this quite interesting, because no one seems to get freaked out when cats do it.

And cats do it far more often and far more proficiently than any dog.

Predatory behavior, which people often incorrectly call “predatory aggression,” is something you sign up for when you bring one of these animals into your home.

And while it’s certainly true that dogs wind up forming very strong bonds people, they still have their heritage within the species of Canis lupus and the order Carnivora.

However, it’s pretty easy to train dogs to leave certain species alone.

And if they don’t want the dog killing sea lion pups, all they will have to do is invest a little time and effort into training it.


Having seen dogs kill things in the wild my entire life, I’m really quite shocked at the reaction of the people in this video.

This is so foreign to me that it  make my stomach churn a bit.


If you think this is unnatural behavior for a dog to hunt sea lions, here’s a video of a relatively close of the domestic dogs targeting the pups of another eared seal species:



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Steller Sealions

I’ve never seen them up close. I’ve only seen them at a distance at zoo.

But this post at Hoof & Paw gives you an idea of how massive these creatures are.

I remember reading somewhere about a Steller sea lion that showed up in Britain, but I can’t find the article online.  Does someone know of a link to that article?

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