Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Assignment Earth: Entangled sea lions

Off Alaska's coast, new research shows how entangling fishing gear and trash cause devastating consequences for Steller sea lions. (Video: Assignment Earth) Sea Lions Sea lions are marine mammals belonging to the superfamily pinniped (which includes seals and walruses) and the family otariiade (made up of mostly fur seals). Sea lions are often difficult to tell apart from a seal given that both have the same sleek build and flippers that are ideal for swimming. But like all members of the otariiade family, sea lions are identifiable by the ear flap around their ears (seals just have tiny holes that serve as their ears). The sea lions live on rocky land or floating ice, always near water where they do their hunting for fish. They’re a noisy bunch, barking and roaring at one another, but it help them, particularly the pups, differentiate one from another. Natural swimmers, sea lions are able to stay underwater for up to 40 minutes and can swim up to 25 miles per hour, a useful trait when they’re attempting to evade orcas and sharks. Most species of sea lions – there are six – have relatively stable populations or reside in protected areas, like the Galapagos sea lion. Other, notably the Californian and Steller sea lions, are endangered or threatened.

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