Thursday, May 23, 2013

Party of Pinnipeds

Today we focused on pinnipeds and orcas. Pinnipeds (pinni meaning flipper, and ped meaning foot), are mammals that live in water and have flippers for feet. There are three basic types of pinnipeds: seals, sea lions, and walruses, but you can only find Harbor Seals and Stellar Sea Lions in Friday Harbor. Despite both being classified under the name ‘pinniped,’ there are several differences between seals and sea lions.

Seals sport a spotted coat that covers every inch of their body. We have a touch table at the museum, and I can assure you that seal pelt is super soft, fine and I can see why people would want to wear it.  It is illegal now, however, to hunt the creatures here and for that I am glad. Seals also have special whiskers that are “beaded.” Beaded whiskers mean that they are bumpy to the touch. And actually, these whiskers aren’t really whiskers at all: they’re called vibrissae. Vibrissae work in the same way whiskers on a cat do, however, and sense changes in the water as well as movement around the animal itself. Seals have short, stubby fins and can only move by dragging themselves around. They also have no external ears—only ear holes.

Sea Lions, on the other hand, are quite larger than seals and are usually a solid color, such as dark brown for the California Sea Lion or golden brown for the Stellar Sea Lion. Their vibrissae are straight and smooth, much like uncooked spaghetti, and much longer than a seal’s. Their pelt, interestingly enough, leaves the flippers bare—and they can walk (or kinda hop) rather than pulling themselves on their bellies, like seals.

Unlike the seals, they also have tiny ear stubs, are larger in size, more social, and much nosier.

There is so much to learn about Orcas, I’m hoping to do it in an upcoming post. :)

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