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Pinniped Point Underwater Viewing

Pinniped Point is an exhibit at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois as part of the Chicago Zoological Society. Pinniped is a Latin word that means “fin-footed.” In this exhibit, customers get an up-close and underwater views of sea lions and seals and observe their way of life – how they hunt, communicate, mate, and survive harsh conditions.

California Sea lion

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Kanuk and Zeus in a training session.

California sea lions are well adapted for life in the water. Their body is smooth and streamlined. Their torpedo shape lets them swim with little resistance, and their long front flippers propel them through the water with great power---almost as if they were flying. Sea lions have shorter rear flippers for steering, which enable them to make quick, sharp turns. Their nostrils are normally closed to keep out water, and they must foluntarily flex small muscles to open their nostrils to breathe. Like all pinnipeds, sea lions are warm-blooded (just like us!), so they have a thick coat of fur and a heavy layer of fat under their skin to keep them warm in cold water.

Gray Seal

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Newborn gray seals are born with a white lanugo or coat. The pups are born weighing ~30 to 40 lbs and are 35” to 43” inches long. They will nurse for 3 weeks where the pups will gain about 100 lbs during that time!

Grey seals are sexually dimorphic (2 distinct gender forms) in both size and coloration. Males are significantly larger with thicker necks and shoulders than females. Males also have wider, more rounded snouts and a darker coloration than females. However, both sexes are some shade of black with white specks and splotches that vary from whiteish to black in color.

Brookfield Zoo is home to six gray seals;

Name Gender
Lily F
Boone M
Minnow M
Tasha F
Della F

Harbor Seal

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Males are slightly larger than females, but not sufficiently larger to be considered sexual dimorphism (2 distinct gender forms). Due to lack of external ear flaps and short forelimbs, harbor seals are part of the “true seal” family. Their short forelimbs limit locomotion on land. They are white-gray to dark gray-brown, with patterns of rings or spots; these patterns are light on a dark background or vice-versa. Their ventral side is generally lighter and has less spots. The pattern on the coat is unique to each seal, which can be very useful in the identification of individuals. They have torpedo-shaped bodies with round heads. They have short front flippers, used as rudders when swimming, that contain 5 digits webbed together with large claws. Their back flippers also contain 5 digits and are used mostly for forward movement while swimming.
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