Seals & Sea Lions: What's the Difference?

Seals and sea lions are two of the most popular marine mammals in the San Francisco Bay and are certainly well known at our home base of Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf. While they may look similar, we often get asked, what is the difference between a seal and a sea lion?….so here we go! 

One of the main differences between seals and sea lions is their physical appearance. Sea lions have external ear flaps, while seals have small ear holes. Sea lions also have a protruding snout, while seals have a rounder, more flattened face. Another big distinguishing feature is their movement on land - sea lions have large front flippers that they use to walk on land, while seals tend to wiggle on their bellies…as shown in these two photos. 

In terms of lifestyle, both seals and sea lions are carnivorous and feed primarily on fish such as salmon and herring. They are also both social animals and often form large groups on beaches or rocks. However, sea lions are generally more vocal than seals and can be heard barking loudly from a distance.


In addition, these animals play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling the population of certain fish species and helping to maintain the balance of the food chain. They are also known to travel long distances in search of food. They can travel as far as Alaska and the Arctic Circle to feed during certain times of the year.

In the San Francisco Bay, both seals and sea lions can be found sunbathing near our docks at Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. These areas offer a great opportunity for tourists to see these fascinating animals up close and personal. The sea lions are known to be very playful and entertaining, often splashing in the water or interacting with each other. Many people are drawn to these animals because of their adorable appearance and playful behavior.

We should mention, while watching them swim, sunbathe, and interact with each other can be a great way to spend a vacation day in San Francisco – when you see one on our docks DO NOT attempt to talk or get close to them, as they can be unpredictable or possibly aggressive. That’s one selfie worth skipping over on your trip ☺

Overall, seals and sea lions are fascinating animals that offer a unique and exciting experience for visitors to San Francisco. We look forward to showing them to you up close on your next Bay Sail or Sunset Sail with Adventure Cat!

See you on your next trip with Adventure Cat Sailing in San Francisco!

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