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Are Seals Related to Dogs? The Surprising Answer Revealed - PawSafe

Are Seals Related to Dogs? The Surprising Answer Revealed

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

are seals related to dogs

Seals and dogs may look related, but are they? Seals are so dog-like that they have earned the common name of “water puppies.” However, many people may wonder if seals are related to dogs. The answer is yes, but not in the way that you might think.

While dogs are members of the Canidae family, seals belong to the Pinnipedia family. Seals are more related to bears and weasels than they are to dogs. However, seals and dogs share a common ancestor that lived 55 million years ago.

If  ‘’are seals related to dogs” question has been on your mind, you may as well get ready to be informed. With the support of research, we present what you need to know about the relationship between seals and dogs and why they are not as closely related as you’d have loved.

Seals are not referred to as sea dogs for nothing. They are affectionate, fearless towards humans,  playful, and curious, just like our furry friends. Seals are also considered more intelligent than our dogs, if not as equally. 

There are 35 types of pinniped in the world, too, which are further divided into three primary families. These include 

  • Phocidae( True seals or earless seals);
  • Otariidae (Eared seals); and
  • Odobenidae( Walruses).

Each family of seals includes various species with unique characteristics, behaviors, and distributions. These seals have adapted to their respective environments and exhibit various sizes, behaviors, and habitats.

Evolutionary Connection

A seal in the ocean

The evolutionary connection between seals and dogs lies further back in the tree of life, well before they became the distinct species we recognize today. Here’s an overview of their evolutionary history and connections:

Common Ancestors

Seals and dogs do not share a recent common ancestor. Instead, they belong to different taxonomic groups and have distinct evolutionary lineages.

Seals are marine mammals belonging to the family Pinnipedia. Their closest relatives are other pinnipeds, such as sea lions and walruses. These animals are believed to have evolved from terrestrial carnivores that gradually adapted to an aquatic lifestyle. 

History suggests that the exact ancestors of seals date back to the early Eocene, over 34 million years ago. Dogs are domesticated descendants of wolves and belong to the family Canidae, the same family as foxes.

They share a common ancestor with other canids like foxes, jackals, and coyotes. This common ancestor is thought to have lived around 40 million years ago.

The domestication of dogs from wolves is believed to have begun thousands of years ago, and the genetic divergence between dogs and wolves is relatively recent.

While seals and dogs both fall under the larger category of mammals, their evolutionary paths diverged significantly, with seals adapting to an aquatic environment and dogs remaining terrestrial or domesticated animals.

Physical Similarities

A seal on a beach

Being under the same order, Carnivora, these beautiful animals share some physical similarities even though they belong to different families. This section will explore some similarities, including body structure and adaptations.

Body Structure

Both seals and dogs have four limbs, which they use to move around on land. However, seals are much better adapted to life in the water, and their limbs are modified into flippers that allow them to swim with great speed and agility.

Seal fingers can spread out and curl like those of a bear. A thin webbing connects the fingers to increase the surface when pushing water. On the other hand, dogs have paws with claws designed for running and digging.

Dogs and seals have whiskers to guide them in their day-to-day lives. According to studies, seals tend to use the whiskers for hunting in the water when their vision is limited. Another physical similarity between seals and dogs is their body shape.

 Both animals have streamlined bodies that are well-suited to their respective lifestyles. Seals have long, sleek bodies designed for swimming, while dogs have more compact bodies built for running and jumping.

Adaptations

Seals and dogs have evolved several adaptations that help them survive in their environments. For example, seals have thick layers of blubber that keep them warm in cold water, while dogs have thick fur coats that protect them from the elements.

Another adaptation that both seals and dogs share is their keen sense of smell. Studies show that seals have high olfactory sensitivity, which they use to locate their feeding area and to find their cubs on land after days of foraging in th sea.

However, according to a study, every cub’s mother seal examined among hundreds of cubs exchanged naso-nasal inspection with her, suggesting a strong role for olfactory communication in individual recognition. 

Dogs are also included. Their high sense of smell enables them to gather current and historical information about their surroundings and find food. 

While seals and dogs may seem very different at first glance, they share several physical similarities that reflect their adaptations to their respective environments.

Behavioral Similarities

A eared seal head looking a little dog-like

Seals and dogs share several behavioral similarities, including their social behavior and hunting techniques.

Social Behavior

Both seals and dogs are social animals and live in groups. Seals live in large social groups called colonies on land or ice. They usually come to land or sea ice to mate and raise the young.

Dogs are social animals and thrive when they can interact with their kind. Like dogs, seals, with their playful nature, can form bonds with humans. However, it’s good to remember that seals are still predators, have instincts, and can turn aggressive when triggered.

In both cases, individuals within the group rely on each other for protection, food, and companionship. Seals communicate with each other through various vocalizations, such as barks, grunts, and growls, while dogs use barks, whines, and body language to convey their emotions and intentions.

Hunting Techniques

Seals and dogs are also skilled hunters, using their physical abilities and intelligence to catch prey. Seals hunt fish, squid, and other marine animals, while dogs hunt small mammals, birds, and sometimes even larger prey like deer.

Both seals and dogs use similar techniques to catch their prey, such as stalking, chasing, and ambushing. They also have specialized adaptations to help them hunt, such as their keen sense of smell and powerful jaws. 

Genetic Link

Seals and dogs share a common ancestor, so they have many similarities in their physical appearance and behavior. This genetic link has been confirmed through DNA analysis and scientific studies.

DNA Analysis

In 2015, a team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, conducted a study on the genomes of various species of mammals, including seals and dogs. The study found that seals and dogs share a common ancestor that lived approximately 55 million years ago. 

The researchers also discovered that the genetic differences between seals and dogs are relatively small, indicating a close genetic relationship between the two species.

Scientific Studies

Scientific studies comparing seals and dogs may focus on various aspects, such as behavior, anatomy, genetics, physiology, and ecological roles. Here are some areas of comparison:

1. Evolutionary History: While seals and dogs belong to different taxonomic groups (seals are marine mammals, and dogs are domesticated terrestrial mammals), scientists have studied their evolutionary history to understand their divergence.

2. Behavioral Studies: Comparative behavioral studies can shed light on seals and dogs’ social structures, communication, and cognitive abilities.

For example, researchers have explored dogs’ problem-solving skills and communication abilities and studied the social behaviors of various seal species.

3. Physiology: Studies might investigate the physiological adaptations of seals to their aquatic environments and the adaptations of dogs to terrestrial life. This could include examining their respiratory systems, thermoregulation, and locomotion.

4. Genetics: Comparative genomics can reveal the genetic differences and similarities between seals and dogs. These studies can help us understand their evolutionary relationships and genetic adaptations to their respective environments.

5. Ecological Roles: Research might focus on the ecological roles that seals and dogs play in their ecosystems. This includes their diets, foraging behaviors, and impact on local ecosystems.

6. Conservation: Studies on seals often focus on conservation, aiming to understand their populations, migration patterns, and threats they face. In contrast, research on dogs can explore their interactions with wildlife, including potential threats to local ecosystems.

7. Cognition: Cognitive studies can be conducted on both seals and dogs to compare their problem-solving, memory, and learning capacities. These studies can provide insights into their cognitive evolution and capabilities.

8. Communication: Researchers may investigate the vocalizations and methods used by seals and dogs. Comparative studies can help us understand the role of communication in their social structures and survival strategies.

9. Anatomy: Comparative anatomical studies can examine seals and dogs’ skeletal structures, sensory organs, and other physical adaptations. These studies can provide insights into how their bodies have evolved to meet the demands of their respective environments.

10. Domestication and Human Interaction: Dogs have been domesticated and bred for various purposes. Studying the domestication process and the relationships between dogs and humans can help researchers understand the dynamics of human-animal interactions, which may differ significantly from seals.

While seals and dogs have some similarities in that they are both mammals, the vast differences in their evolutionary history, environments, and lifestyles make them fascinating subjects for comparative research. Studies in these areas help expand our knowledge of the animal kingdom and provide insights into the unique adaptations of these two diverse species.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What animal is closely related to seals?

Seals belong to Carnivora, which includes dogs, cats, bears, and weasels. Seals are closely related to sea lions and walruses within this order.

Are seals related to otters?

Seals and otters belong to the same order, Carnivora, but they are in different families. Seals are in the family Phocidae, while otters are in the family Mustelidae.

Are seals closer to dogs or bears?

Seals are more closely related to dogs than to bears. Both seals and dogs belong to the suborder Caniformia, while bears belong to the suborder Feliformia.

How closely related are dogs and sea lions?

Dogs and sea lions are both in the suborder Caniformia, but they are in different families. Dogs are in the family Canidae, while sea lions are in the family Otariidae.

Are seals friendly?

Seals are wild animals and should be treated with caution. While they may appear friendly, they can be dangerous if provoked or threatened.

Are seals dangerous to dogs?

Seals can be dangerous to dogs, especially if the dog approaches the seal and threatens it. Keeping dogs on a leash and under control when near seals is important to prevent any potential conflicts.

Conclusion

Both belong to Carnivora, but seals are in the Pinnipedia suborder, while dogs are in Caniformia. Seals have adapted to life in the water, while dogs are primarily land animals. Additionally, their physical characteristics, behavior, and diet are quite different.

While it may be tempting to think of seals as “sea dogs,” it is essential to recognize that they are distinct species with unique adaptations and characteristics. By understanding the differences between these two groups, we can better appreciate the diversity of life on our planet.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.