by Dave Hanks
The seal acts in circus performances are not done by true seals at all. They are done by sea lions. Sea lions have an extra joint in their forelimbs which allows them to sit up and walk on all fours. True seals can’t do that and so are unable to do the required tricks.
Sea lions are pinnipeds and closely related to fur seals. Both have external ears flaps. Sea lions can swim up to 25 mph and are quite fast on land. Sea lions make a roaring noise (hence their name) and will bark and honk. Their range extends from the sub-arctic to tropical waters in both the northern and southern hemispheres of the Pacific Ocean.
The California Sea Lion lives in the cool waters off the coast of western North America. This species has short, thick, brown to buff-colored fur over a thick layer of blubber. Males (bulls) have a thick furry mane around their neck and are darker and much larger than the females – 850 pounds to 250 pounds. It is an intelligent and social mammal that will congregate in large groups on land (colonies or rookeries) and in smaller groups at sea (rafts). Though, they are color blind, they have keen eye sight and a good sense of hearing. Whiskers aid in their sense of touch.
Seals and Sea Lions are carnivores that feed on fish, squid, crabs, clams, and lobsters. They can crush shells with their back teeth, but they don’t chew their food. They swallow large chunks of it whole.This predator is also preyed upon by Orcas (killer whales) and sharks.
When you find yourself along the west coast, you will hear lots of noise emanating from piers or platforms that extend out into the bays. On investigation you will find groups of pinnipeds tightly ensconced together in the space available.