New Brighton School

New Brighton school was full of eager young minds! Did you know, they don’t call their grades the same things we do? We say ‘I’m in fifth grade,’ but in New Zealand, they say ‘I’m in year five’. So, I’m going to practice what I learned. I taught my program to 52 students in years 5 through 8. I also taught 54 students in years 3 and 4. I focused on a footprints theme while I was teaching at New Brighton. We also had fun trying on my famous coat, Big Red!

New Brighton
Big red earned its name. Just look at how huge this coat is on my friends at New Brighton! Photo credit: Alex Eilers

Kaikoura

The kids at New Brighton Suggested I head out to Kaikoura if I wanted to see some more seals. Everywhere I go, I seem to be surrounded by PinnipedsPinnipeds are aquatic mammals that use flippers for movement on land and in water such as seals, sea lions, and walruses. Pinniped means "fin-footed."! That’s alright; I’m a big fan of these loveable mammals so I headed out to Kane Point. To my surprise, I found these furry friends lounging on the rocks.

Alex with sea lions in the background
At first glance, it may look like I’m just enjoying the sun on a rocky beach, but look closer. There are some well camouflaged Pinnipeds in the background! Photo credit: Alex Eilers

These are Fur seals. However, their name is misleading. They aren’t seals at all! They are sea lions. Remember my journal about the Pinnipedia suborder? A Pinniped is a marine mammal that can live on land and in the water. Both seals and sea lions are part of this sub order. But what makes a sea lion different from a seal? Sea lions have external ear flaps, long flippers that can support their body in an upright position, and thicker fur. Check out the picture a see if you can spot the differences.
Sea Lions at Kaikoura
You can see the seal on the right climbing over the rocks by rotating his front and back fins under his body. Maybe you can ever make out the little ear flap on the seal sleeping in the middle! Photo credit: Alex Eilers

I was wondering about some of the other differences between a Weddell seal and a Kaikoura Sea lion. I bet you are curious too! Here is what I learned.

Diet

These Sea lions aren’t too picky when it comes to chow time. These guys are good at adapting their diets to whatever creatures are available in their environment. Some Sea lion favorites are lantern fish, squid, and octopus. Unlike the Weddell seal, Sea lions don’t often have to dive for long periods of time to catch a snack. The water off-shore at Kaikoura Canyon is rich with yummy aquatic meals for Sea lions.

Teeth

Do you think there is any ice in Kaikoura? No! These Sea lions don’t have to worry about reaming the ice to maintain their breathing hole. Sea lions can jump in and out of the water as they please. Their teeth are not angled in their mouth like the Weddell seal’s teeth.

Sea lion and Weddell seal Skull
Do you notice any differences between the Fur seal Skull on the left and the Weddell seal skull on the right? Photo credit: Educationalbiofacts.com, ameliorator.blogspot.com

Don’t be misled though, these sea lions still have some major chompers to help them catch and hold on to flighty prey!
Sea lion and sea weed
This Sea lion was having a nice yawn as I snapped my photo. I wonder what she was looking for in that pile of sea weed. Photo credit: Alex Eilers

Blubber

Though New Zealand may have some chilly weather, it’s nothing compared to the freezing temperatures in Antarctica. Notice how much slimmer these sea lions look compared to the Weddells. Sea lions don’t need as much blubber to keep them warm. Instead, they use their blubber primarily to store energy.

Sea lion and Weddell Seal
The top photo is a Fur seal and the bottom photo is a Weddell seal. The Weddell seal is clearly the heavy weight champion in this Pinniped comparison! Photo credit: Top: jrwaterworld.com, Bottom: Amy Kirkham, MMPA Permit # 17411

Fur

Without all that blubber, how do Sea lions keep warm on a frosty day? The fur of a Sea lion is very different from the fur of a Weddell seal. The inner layer of Sea lion fur is soft and fine to trap lots of warm air near the skin. Their outer layer is much longer than the Weddell seals fur and acts as a protective layer. You will also notice a color difference. The sea lions have warm gold-brown fur that retains more oils than the Weddell seal’s fur.

Sea Lions on the rocks
Look at all the beautiful shades of brown, gold, and red in the Sea lions’ fur! Photo credit: Alex Eilers

Dives

Like I said before, Fur seals don’t take long to catch a meal. Why do you think they have an easier time catching food? Well, the warmer climate of New Zealand means phytoplankton grow near the ocean surface for a greater amount of time each year. The fish that eat the phytoplankton stay close to the surface too. In fact, most of the aquatic life thrives closer to the ocean surface meaning Fur seals rarely have to dive deep to find a tasty morsel. Sea lions are still expert divers that can dive for about 30 minutes at a time and swim up to 40 kilometers an hour! These guys love water so much, they will even sleep under water. They can surface for air while they sleep without ever waking up! Talk about a deep sleeper.

Breeding

Sea lions have pups and like Weddell seals, they are pretty cute! The relationship between the sea lion mom and pup is different from that of the Weddell seal. Weddell seals nurse and raise their pups in only 6 weeks! After that, the pup is on its own. Fur seals spend four months nursing, teaching, and protecting their pups. The Sea lions have more time to grow and learn.

Sea lion and Weddell seal pups
These guys are too cute! The sea lion pups on the top are just as adorable as the Weddell seal pups on the bottom. Photo credit: ryot.org, mangelsenstock.photoshelter.com, Michelle Shero, MMPA Permit # 17411, Alex Eilers

Like Weddell seals, Fur seals are old enough to have their own babies at 5 to 7 years old. Both species mate once a year at breeding grounds during the breeding seasons.

So, there are some striking similarities and differences between Fur seals and Weddell Seals. The moderate environment that surrounds the Fur seal enables them to have a more relaxed life style. The Fur seal has no need to adapt to the harsh Antarctic environment so they do not have as many special physical features as the Weddell seal. However, I still think both these members of the Pinniped family are pretty neat. I’m so excited I got to meet a few new members of the Weddell seal Family!

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