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  • Christopher Stephens, MSc

Sea Lions & Seals have "Flipper Nails"

Updated: May 13

Exactly what is a Pinniped? Seals & Sea Lions are "Fin-Footed" Marine Mammals


Seals and Sea Lions are known as Pinnipeds, a Latin name that translates to "fin-footed". What a good name that is, and it might surprise you, the reader, to learn that these marine mammals are much closer to land dwelling mammals than you might imagine.


“Pinnipeds like the California Sea Lion have toenails that stick out of their flippers. A beachcomber finding a washed up sea lion may be shocked by the presence of vestigial toenails that seem typical of a land animal."

Related to land dwelling carnivores like bears, skunks and weasels, seals and sea lions are much closer to land animal evolutionary stages than say whales and dolphins in the marine mammal-land mammal continuum. Closer yet to land animals would be river otters and sea otters and semi-aquatic rodents like the muskrat.


Adaptation in Action


If mermaids were real, their relationship to humans would be somewhat akin to the relationship between seals and sea lions and their land based carnivore cousins. Pinnipeds like the California Sea Lion have toenails that stick out of their flippers.


A beachcomber finding a washed up sea lion may be shocked by the presence of vestigial toenails that seem typical of a land animal. These nails have significant value for land animals but in the case of sea lions, their function is largely lost in the tide of adaptive change. For the researcher, these leftover traits are perhaps the most fascinating, a window on our natural world.

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