Systematics and Biodiversity

Fur seals and sea lions (Otariidae): identification of species and taxonomic review

Sylvia Brunner a1a2a3
a1 Australian Marine Mammal Research Centre, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
a2 CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, GPO Box 284, Canberra City, ACT 2601, Australia
a3 University of Alaska Museum, 907 Yukon Drive, Fairbanks AK 99775, United States 1

Article author query
brunner s   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


The standard anatomical descriptions given to identify species of the family Otariidae (fur seals and sea lions), particularly those for the genus Arctocephalus, have been largely inconclusive. Specimens of some species conformed more to the description of others, overlapping in many identifying characteristics. Recent re-examination of the genetic basis of taxonomic diversity within otariids required matching by comprehensive new studies of skull morphometry based on large sample sizes, to provide a sound basis for re-appraisal of species limits in the family. The typical skull morphology of otariids fall into two general characteristics: a short, mesocephalic skull observed primarily in the fur seals and a more dolichocephalic skull common in most sea lions. Subfamily separation of otariid seals was not supported. Instead, a separation of genus, species and subspecies was proposed, with re-arrangement of taxonomy at the levels of genus, species and subspecies. Arctocephalus australis, A. forsteri and A. galapagoensis appeared congeneric, with only subspecific differences in morphology. Arctocephalus townsendi and A. philippii appeared congeneric, yet were morphologically divergent from the remaining Arctocephalus. Skulls of Zalophus californianus japonicus were significantly different from those of Z. c. californianus and Z. c. wollebaeki, and were considered a separate species of Zalophus. …in no family of mammals, probably, have more diversities of opinion been expressed by zoologists, both with respect to the number of species in the family and their arrangement in genera and subfamilies, than in the Otariidae.

(Received December 2002)
(Accepted May 2003)


1 Correspondence address