Copyright © 2005-2017 Ray Plowman All Rights Reserved
Seals and sea lions are from the Otariidae family that belongs to the order Carnivora (carnivorous) and suborder Caniformia.
On the Otago Peninsula, I captured an image of a magnificent black bull that just hauled out at Pilots Beach and some silver-grey females. I also photographed bulls and cows hauled out and asleep on Sandfly Bay beach.
The vulnerable Hooker’s or New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) is endemic to New Zealand’s South Island inhabiting the lower half of the East Coast, the South Coast and islands in the Southern Ocean. The heavily built males grow up to 3.25 meters in length, weigh up to 410 Kg and are black or dark brown. Mature bulls have a mane of rough hair. The females are much smaller, up to 2 meters in length, weigh up to 230 Kg and are silver grey with cream abdomens.
The New Zealand or southern fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) is a common marine mammal resident in all of New Zealand’s coastal waters and along the Southern Australian Coastline and Tasmania. I photographed them at several locations along the East Coast of New Zealand’s South Island: At Ohau Point, north of Kaikoura, the seal colony close to the main highway so great place to photograph them – the females haul out to sleep while the pups play in the rock pools. There is a small colony at the Point Kean on the Kaikoura Peninsula where they haul and sleep. I captured some images on the east coast on the Otago Peninsula.
New Zealand fur seals are dark-brown in colour on the back, lighter underneath and look black when wet. Some individuals look silvery. Adult females are around 1.5 metres in length with an average weight of 50 kg while adult males grow up to 2.5 metres in length and weight over three times that of females.
Australian, South African, cape or brown fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus) inhabit the coastal waters in South East Australia, Tasmania and along the South African coast. I photographed the Australian subspecies (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) at the Gippsland Lakes. There were females and pups hauled at on the rocks at the Lakes Entrance channel and some bulls swimming in the channel along with Burrunan dolphins.
The Australian subspecies females grow up to 1.70 metres in length, weigh up to 120 kg while adult males are significantly larger being up to 2.2 metres in length and weigh up to 360 kg. Females are silvery-grey with a creamy-yellow throat and chest with a chocolate brown belly while the males are dark grey/brown have a mane of coarse hair on their neck and shoulders. The pups have almost black backs and are grey/light-brown on the belly.
Identification of Otariidae family genus and especially the species can be challenging as sea lions and eared seals can be similar in colour and have visible external. The main difference is in size and nose shape: sea lions have blunt noses, are bulky around the shoulders while eared seals have pointed noses and are generally smaller.
Mature sea lion males are brown to black in colour while the females lighter being predominantly creamy grey but darker around their flippers. Juvenile sea lion males can resemble adult females in colour and size and both sexes of pups are chocolate brown.
New Zealand fur seals have shorter front flippers than sea lions, are generally dark grey-brown or have a silvery appearance and look black when wet. Australian fur seals are very similar to the New Zealand fur seals, so it is difficult to tell them apart, but Australian fur seals are slightly larger and much darker.
The resources used for identification of the taxonomic rank, scientific name, common name and expert knowledge are in the taxonomic classification section on my wildlife web page.