Part of the job at SeaWorld San Antonio is to educate our guests, and their children, by providing an enthusiastic, imaginative, and intellectually stimulating atmosphere. We hope that this will help guests develop a lifelong appreciation, understanding, and stewardship for our environment and the animals that share our planet.
One of the ways we do this is by providing areas where people can interact and view animals. One of those areas at SeaWorld San Antonio is Seal and Sea Lion Community Pool where you can see both California sea lions and harbor seals. We have four species of pinnipeds living at the park.
The scientific order pinnipedia includes all sea lions, seals and walruses. Here at our park we house California sea lions, harbor seals, walruses and Hawaiian monk seals. When visiting the Seal and Sea Lion Community Pool you can see both California sea lions and harbor seals. While both species are part of the order pinniped, there are very distinct differences between the two.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the California sea lion is their external ear flaps. Because of that ear flap they are considered a part of the family Otariid which includes all “eared seals.” As you watch them swim you will also notice they propel themselves through the water with their large wing like front flippers and while on land they are much more mobile than seals because they have a rotating pelvic girdle. This pelvic girdle allows them to rotate their hind flippers underneath them and walk on all fours.
When you spend time at the exhibit you may also notice that the sea lions are very vocal and social with each other. The male California sea lion can be distinguished from females by their larger size and the enlarged ridge on the top of their head called the sagittal crest.
After watching the noisy sea lions you will notice their quieter neighbors the harbor seal. Harbor seals are also known as common or spotted seals due to their coloring and widespread distribution. The harbor seal is part of the Phocidae family which includes all “true seals”. The Hawaiian monk seal is also included in this family. “True seals” have no external ear flap and a fused pelvic girdle. The fused pelvic girdle makes them less mobile on land because they are not able to walk on their flippers, instead they will roll or undulate. When swimming they use their back flippers to propel themselves.
You may also notice that the harbor seals have nails on their front flippers. The California sea lion has no nails on their front flippers, but they do have a few small nails on their back flippers. If you watch them long enough you will see them scratch their heads with a back flipper. It's pretty funny looking. Probably the easiest way to distinguish a harbor seal from a California sea lion is the seal's spotted coat. Each individual has its own unique pattern and coloration. Males and females are very similar, with the main difference being that the males are slightly larger.
Anytime you stop at one of our animal exhibits feel free to approach the Education & Conservation Department team members. They are there to answer any and all questions you may have about our animals. I or one of my fellow Animal Care Specialists may be in the area as well. If you would like to learn about some of the endangered species that call our park home, including the Hawaiian Monk Seal, than check out the Saving a Species Tour next spring or summer.