Is That a Galapagos Seal or a Sea Lion? (6 Ways To Tell)

Galapagos Islands Animals, Galapagos Marine Life

One of the animals everyone wants to see when they go to the Galapagos is the seal. Or it is the sea lion? Could it be both?

This can be a little confusing. It was for us. I saw exciting pictures of people standing by what I thought were seals, on the beach or swimming with them in the water. I kept saying “I can’t wait to see those seals when we go to Galapagos!” But what I was looking at were actually sea lions.

There are both fur seals (Galápagos fur seal: Arctocephalus galapagoensis) and sea lions (Galápagos sea lion: Zalophus wollebaeki) in the Galapagos Islands.

Which are you most likely to see? How will you know if you are looking at a seal or a sea lion? Here are a few facts that might help you tell them apart.

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Headshots of Galapagos Sea Lion (left) and Galapagos Fur Seal (right)

Fur Seal or a Sea Lion? Six Facts to Tell Them Apart:

  1. Sea lions are larger than fur seals. Adult female sea lions weigh around 50-80 kg and up to 120 kg. Adult female Galapagos fur seals usually weigh less than 30 kg.
  2. Fur seals are much harder to find. Fur seals live on rugged, hard to reach coastline. Sea lions live on the beach or on the rocks very near the beach.
  3. Sea lions have a longer nose. Sea lions have a longer nose with the eyes being set back farther on the head. Fur seals have a shorter snout with the eyes set closer to the nose.
  4. Fur seals have larger ears. The ears of a fur seal are larger and stick off farther from the head. Sea lions have smaller ears that are closer to the head.
  5. Sea lions feed at different times during the day. Sea lions don’t mind feeding at different times during the day or night. Fur seals feed mainly at night.
  6. Fur seals mate on land. Sea lions usually mate in the water.
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Galapagos Fur Seal, Santiago Island (c) D. Gordon E. Robertson, PhD

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Galapagos Sea Lion

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Galapagos Sea Lion, Santa Cruz Island

We saw sea lions on the back deck as soon as we arrived at the hotel on Santa Cruz Island. We also saw them as we entered the dock of Floreana Island, and they welcomed us by swimming near the boat as we came into the bay of Isabela Island.

It was exciting and fun to see them; they always bring a smile to my face. Have you seen the fur seals or sea lions of the Galapagos? Please share your comments on this post.

See more photos of Galapagos sea lions

Image of the Galapagos Fur Seal is courtesy of D. Gordon E. Robertson, PhD, Fellow of Canadian Society for Biomechanics, Emeritus Professor, School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada and used under creative commons license.

Meet the Author

Hi, I'm Dena Haines! I'm an traveler, photographer and Canadian entrepreneur. I'm a partner at Storyteller Media, a content marketing company for travel brands. I blog at GringosAbroad (Ecuador travel) and Click Like This (How to Use a GoPro).

4 comments… add one
  • Michael Stone Jan 5, 2014, 12:53 pm

    Thank you for this! I’ve been trying for more than an hour to try to distinguish which I had a photo of.

  • Brea Jul 7, 2014, 10:07 pm

    We have learned (and surprisingly few places on the internet confirm) that although we call the Galapagos Fur Seals, Seals, they are infact also sea lions. You can tell because they also have ears. Go figure. We decided that we would start calling them Galapagos Fur Sea Lions and hope that it catches on.

    • Karen Sep 22, 2015, 8:58 pm

      I am not a marine biologist or any sort of expert by any means, but to my knowledge you are correct! I am amazed at how difficult it is to find confirmation (though it is out there–few and far between). I toured the Galapagos and our guide said, and repeated with emphasis several times:
      “There are no seals in the Galapagos. There are no seals in the Galapagos. We have sea lions and fur sea lions.”

  • Janet Goodyer Mar 9, 2017, 12:10 pm

    Thank you. I was tying to find the difference as we had been told that we had seen both and I was puzzled. I will study my photos. I had heard that the fur seals had thicker fur. I do not know if this is true.

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