Seal and Sea Lion Bites

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Volume 28 Number 5

Dangerous Cousins

By Jeff Toorish, NREMTP

As an avid SCUBA diver and dive instructor, I have had my fair share of encounters with seals and sea lions. In general I steer clear of these large, sometimes aggressive, top-of-the-food-chain predators. Over the years I have seen a lot of people, both underwater and on land, get too close to these animals. What they likely don’t know is a seal or sea lion bite can lead to a serious infection.

Seals and sea lions are, essentially, second cousins; along with the walrus, they are pinnipeds, which is Latin for “fin-footed.” There are differences. Sea lions have a distinctive loud bark while seals tend to be quieter. Sea lions have outer ear flaps while seals don’t have any external ear, giving them a more hydrodynamic, sleek head. Seals are more adapted to staying in the water for longer periods, although both seals and sea lions spend time on land.


I have had encounters with seals while diving off the coast of New England, and I spent nearly two weeks diving with sea lions in the Sea of Cortez. I can tell you from experience, these are territorial, aggressive animals that will not hesitate to defend themselves or their raft, the name for a group of sea lions.

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