We got word this week that a class of schoolkids in the U.K. is following our Galapagos posts for their science studies! Oh the pressure . . . we hope we can continue to make this as fun and educational (and – eek – as accurate) as possible. So here’s one for the class:
Q. What’s the difference between a seal and a sea lion?
A. They’re both classified as pinnipeds (from the latin words for “fin” and “foot”; in other words, fin-footed). Sea lions are bigger and beefier than seals, and they have a cute little ear flap, whereas seals just have an ear hole. Sea lions also have much bigger front flippers that allow them to walk (very clumsily) on land, but seals just scoot along on their bellies.
The Galapagos Sea Lion is found in only two places on earth, the Galapagos Islands and Isla de la Plata, just off the Ecuador mainland. They were everywhere on all of the islands we visited, but two memories stand out: our visit to the sea lion “nursery” on Isla Española and a snorkeling excursion off Isla Santa Cruz, when we were actually in the water with the playful buggers.
We were lucky enough to be visiting at the height of their breeding season. On Española, quite a few mama sea lions were nursing and tending to their pups on what we called “kindergarten beach.” We loved watching the pups play with each other in rough-and-tumble fashion, just like a litter of canine pups. In fact, much of the sea lions’ behavior and appearance was so doglike, we were tempted to run up and pet them and join in the play. But not only is that against the rules, it could be dangerous, since some of the bulls weigh many hundreds of pounds and they WILL defend their territory.
Swimming with the sea lions was an unforgettable experience. They may seem clumsy on land, but in the water they’re in their element. Not only do they swim like bullets, but they catch site of the strange creatures with snorkel gear and become playful as puppies. They aren’t aggressive unless they’re defending their young, but it was still a little unnerving to have one of these several-hundred-pound creatures swim right at us at full speed.
A few more pics: