Seals and sea lions are mammals that feed in the sea, surface for air and return to land to rest and breed.
Because they spend so much time in the ocean both seals and sea lions have adaptations like streamlined bodies and flippers which make it easy for them to move in the water, but awkward for them to move on land.
Seals and sea lions eat fish, squid, octopus and crustaceans like molluscs, lampreys and krill. Leopard seals and sea lions are also known to eat penguins and sea birds.
These species are social animals and live in large colonies. Seal and sea lion mothers often leave their newborn young or pups on the beach while they go hunting, for up to a week at a time.
Sea lions and seals have features which can help you tell them apart:Sea lions have a small external ear and can fold their flippers at the ankle, so their movements on land are more “four-footed”.
Seals have small holes for ears and cannot bend their hind flippers, which are turned backwards to form a tail fin.
Seals and sea lions were previously hunted extensively for their oil and valuable fur but international agreements have restricted the hunting and populations have recovered. In Australia, seal hunting is not allowed.
However, these animals are still affected by entanglements, commercial fishing, water pollution and reduction in food supply.
Seals and sea lions in NSW
Seals and sea lions are found in colonies along the NSW coast. One of the best spots to view them is Montague Island off the Far South Coast. Here, fur seals can be seen on sunny rocks or playing in the cool waters. Lucky divers may sometimes have close encounters with these curious animals in various parts of the state.
To make sure your seal encounter is safe and enjoyable:
* Keep at least 40 metres away of an adult and 80 metres of a pup seal or sea lion at all times. Seals and sea lions can move fast on land and may bite if provoked or frightened.
* Never stand or walk between a seal or a sea lion and its escape route to the water.
* Keep dogs well away – they may frighten the seal or sea lion, or provoke an attack.
Remember, it is normal for seals and sea lions to go out on land to rest from feeding trips for up to a week. This also gives them the chance to recover from any injuries they may have. If you happen to see a seal that seems to be disoriented or injured, do not approach it or feed it. Call the ORRCA 24 hour rescue line: 02 9415 3333.