Pinnipeds are semiaquatic marine mammals with 33 recognized species within three families: Phocidae (earless seals), Otariidae (eared seals) and Odobenidae (walrus). The name pinniped is a compound of the Latin pinna, meaning ‘feather’ or ‘fin’ and ped meaning ‘foot’, giving fin-footed mammals.
Pinnipeds belong to the suborder Caniformia, which derives from the Latin canis and forma and means ‘dog shaped’ or ‘dog like’ and are closly related modern bears. Other families in the suporder Caniformia are wolves, dogs, foxes, red panda, skunks, racoons, weasels and otters.
Pinnipeds are well adapted to the aquatic habitat where they spend most of their lives, but all must come ashore to breed, give birth, and nurse their young. Their bodies are barrel-shaped; they have short, wide, wing like flippers and hair. The size of pinnipeds ranges from 1.4 m (4.6 ft) in length and about 70 kg in weight (Baikal seal) to more then 4 m (13 ft) and a weight of 4 t (8’800 lb) with the Southern elephant seal.
All pinniped species are found along coastal areas, from the Antarctic to the Arctic regions. Although many species have restricted distributions, the group as a whole occurs worldwide. They live in estuaries, in continental shelves, tropical seas, the deep ocean, Antarctic and Arctic seas and also in freshwater systems.
Pinnipeds are carnivores and feed on fish, shellfish, squid, crustaceans, penguins, birds and even other seal species.
The main threats for pinnipeds are commercial hunting, coastal development, environmental and noise pollution, loss of habitat and food resources, competition with humans and fur production.