Elephant seals get their name because of their large size and
their trunk like proboscis. Men have hunted elephant seals for the
oil that can be extracted from their blubber. A single animal has
been known to yield 1550 liters of oil!
The members of the type grouped together as eared seals are
characterized by long flexible necks and small ears. When on land,
they use all four limbs to move. In water they use their hind
flippers, that can also be turned forward. This particular
characteristic helps them support the body when they use their limbs
to navigate while on land.
The two main types of
eared seals are sea lions and fur seals.
Of the two types of eared seals, the sea lion is the larger one.
There are different types of sea lions too. One variety is found in
the North Pacific Ocean and referred to as Steller’s sea lion. As in
most species, the males are heavier and longer than the females.
Adult males at times reach a maximum weight of 1100 kilograms.
Another variety of sea lion is found on the South American coast.
These are referred to as southern sea lions. These are smaller
compared to their counterparts from other regions.
Sea lions found on the
Californian coast, known as the small Californian sea lion, are
trained for circuses. This brings to mind the picture of a seal
balancing a ball on its nose, doesn’t it?
These are the commercially important members of this species. Their
anatomical structure is similar to that of the other members of
their family, but with one distinguishing feature – their skin has a
silky undercoat of fur. This special feature has made the species
very important to man.
Fur seals are found in two regions of the world, in the Southern
Hemisphere and in the North Pacific Ocean. There are eight known
species of the southern fur seal. Of the northern fur seal, only one
type is known. In winter, fur seals migrate southwards.
When the fur seals assemble on land, they identify two locations –
one for the breeding ground where the stronger male seals and the
females congregate, and the other is a place where all the
unattached or bachelor seals, as they are referred to, congregate.
A sharp decline in the fur seal population has led to the
establishment of various control measures to protect the species.
Instead of a total ban on hunting seals, permission is given for
hunting the bachelor seals but not the others. This is to ensure
that the growth of population of fur seals is not affected. However,
this is also permitted only under supervision.