Thursday, March 28, 2019

Are Seals Related To Dogs?

A wild seal dog.  Well, not really.  Just somebody's dog wrapped in a blanket like a burrito.

Thee Optimist must be off his meds today.

Everything that's going on is so upsetting (like the unfolding  frog apocalypse), and there are so many horrible, terrible things to be angry about (that lying jackass, for one).

And yet, Thee Optimist has unexpectedly stumbled upon a place of stillness, where he can ponder the deeper, longer-term questions that bedevil humanity.

For example: are dogs and seals related?

A harbor seal looking rather dog-like.

The Sea Dogs

Portland Maine is a waterfront city where I have spent much of my adult life.  In and around Portland, there are small harbor seals, who live mostly in... well, in Portland Harbor.  

The harbor seals look a great deal like dogs.  So much like dogs do they look, that people often refer to them as "sea dogs."  Indeed, the popular minor league professional baseball team in Portland, a AA club affiliated with the Boston Red Sox, is called the Sea Dogs.

What is going on here?  Are seals and dogs related?  Are seals just dogs that live in the ocean?  

Thee Optimist is nothing if not a believer in the magic of SCIENCE, so he has once again turned to this mystical practice for some answers.

Slugger the Sea Dog walks pensively on the dugout along the first base line at Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs.  What is Slugger?  Is he a dog?  Is he a seal?  
What are seals, anyway? 

What Are Dogs?

Dogs are animals we are all pretty well familiar with.  So familiar, in fact, that we hardly need to wonder what they are.  Even so, we might as well get clear on it:

Dogs are canids (part of the family Canidae), wolf-like animals that share a common ancestor with modern gray wolves.  Dogs and wolves are closely related enough that they can interbreed and have offspring.

Dogs are highly intelligent, and are the animals with the closest and longest relationships to humans.  It's estimated that dogs and humans have lived together and cooperated for somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 years.

While dogs have benefited from this relationship - there are more than 900 million dogs on Earth, making them the most widely abundant carnivore on land - they've also lost a little something living soft among humans.  

Pound for pound, wild wolves have larger brains, much better problem-solving skills, and more powerful jaws than dogs. 

They've lost a little something, all right.  No self-respecting wolf would be caught dead dressed like this.

What Are Seals?

Seals are a little more complicated than dogs.  Seals are considered Pinnipeds, a classification that is further broken down into Walruses, Eared Seals (sea lions and fur seals), and Earless or True Seals.

There are 33 different living species of seals, and more than 50 extinct species.  Seals come in a vast range of sizes, from the three-foot-long, 100 pound Baikal Seal, to the giant 15-foot-long, 10,000 pound Southern Elephant Seal.

Like dogs, seals are mammals, and are highly-intelligent.  Like dogs, seals can be trained to do tricks, and they might even enjoy doing so.  

Seals can understand simple sign language from humans, and can bob their heads in time to music.  Besides seals, this behavior is only seen in humans and certain intelligent birds.

The United States Navy has trained sea lions in both underwater object recovery, and in the detection of unauthorized or hostile human swimmers.  

Seals live almost their entire lives in the water.  They come ashore to mate, raise young, rest and escape predators like great white sharks and killer whales.  

Because they spend so much time in the water, seals sleep with half their brain awake and on red alert for predators.

Here is a cute video of a seal on a beach somewhere, making friends with a dog.  They must be related, right?  I mean look at how good they are together!

So... Are They Related?

The answer to this is yes.  And no.

In biological classification (which is some made-up bullshit, if you ask me), dogs and seals are both part of the suborder Caniformia.  

Unfortunately, there are nine families in that suborder.  Canidae, which the dogs belong to, and Pinnipeds, which seals, sea lions and walruses belong to, are two of them.

Ursidae, the family bears belong to, is another.  And Mustelidae, the family that otters, badgers and weasels belong to, is another.

Despite the obvious similarities between dogs and seals, seals are actually considered to be more closely related to bears and to badgers than to dogs.

See what I mean?  Made up.

In general, however, seals are not that closely related to terrestrial mammals at all.  Seals and land-based mammals are thought to have broken off from a common ancestor more than 50 million years ago.

Compare this with humans and chimpanzees, who are much more closely related, and may have completed their split from each other as recently as 4 million years ago.

If you can even believe in evolution.

I don't know, man.  I just don't know.  You be the judge.

Did you enjoy this story?  
Use the buttons to share it with friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment