Instigator / Pro

Sea lions are seals


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 2 votes and with 6 points ahead, the winner is...

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Contender / Con

I will be Pro. In other words, I will be arguing that sea lions are seals.

You will be Con. In other words, you will be arguing that sea lions are not seals.


Round 1 is only for opening arguments // making your case. Con shall not use round 1 to rebut or otherwise respond to Pro's round 1 arguments .

Round 2 is only for rebuttals to round 1 arguments. Pro shall not use round 2 to rebut or otherwise respond to Con's round 2 arguments.

Judges shall not consider arguments that weren't possible to respond to in compliance with these rules as dropped arguments.

Pro and Con shall not plagiarize, but may reuse their own work.

You forfeit, you lose.

Round 1

P1 - Any organism of the taxonomic family Phocidae or Otariidae is a seal.
P2 - All sea lions are organisms of the taxonomic family Otariidae.
C1 - Therefore, all sea lions are seals.

This argument is valid. If the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true.

* "P" is an abbreviation for "premise" and "C" is an abbreviation for "conclusion".

Support for P1 -

Support for P1 comes in the form of encyclopedic and dictionary entries for the word "seal". These references are reputable, sufficiently numerous, and are inclusive of the taxonomic families mentioned in P1. The family names have been emphasized.

  • Encyclopedia Britannica [1]
    • any of 32 species of web-footed aquatic mammals that live chiefly in cold seas and whose body shape, round at the middle and tapered at the ends, is adapted to swift and graceful swimming. There are two types of seals: the earless, or true, seals (family Phocidae); and the eared seals (family Otariidae), which comprise the sea lions and fur seals.
  • Oxford Dictionary [2]
    • A fish-eating aquatic mammal with a streamlined body and feet developed as flippers, returning to land to breed or rest. Families Phocidae (the true seals) and Otariidae (the eared seals, including the fur seals and sea lions). The latter have external ear flaps and are able to sit upright, and the males are much larger than the females
  • American Heritage Dictionary [3]
    • Any of various aquatic carnivorous mammals of the families Phocidae and Otariidae, found chiefly in cold regions and having a sleek torpedo-shaped body and limbs that are modified into paddlelike flippers.
  • Collins Dictionary [4]
    • any of two families (Otariidae and Phocidae) of sea carnivores with a doglike head, a torpedo-shaped body, and four webbed feet or flippers: they live in cold or temperate waters and usually eat fish see also eared seal, earless seal
Support for P2 -

Support for P2 comes in the form of encyclopedic and dictionary entries for the term "sea lion." These references are reputable, sufficiently numerous, and demonstrate that sea lion species are of the family Otariidae, which is also referred to as "eared seals." [1][2] "Otariidae" and/or "eared seal" have been emphasized.

  • Encyclopedia Britannica [5]
    • any of five species of eared seals found primarily in Pacific waters. Sea lions are characterized by a coat of short, coarse hair that lacks a distinct undercoat. Except for the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus), males have lion-like manes and constantly roar to defend their harems (hence their name).
  • Oxford Dictionary [6]
    • An eared seal occurring mainly on Pacific coasts, the large male of which has a mane on the neck and shoulders. Five genera and species in the family Otariidae
  • American Heritage Dictionary [7]
    • Any of several large seals of the family Otariidae, having a blunter muzzle and a thinner coat than the fur seals, especially the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus).
  • Collins Dictionary [8]
    • any of several genera of large, eared seals without underfur, usually living in colonies along the Pacific coastline

Sources -

To be clear, I will be rebuking Pro's R1 entirely in my R2. The debate structure is basically such that I am wrong if I don't do that. This is me playing by the rules, not me playing dirty.

This is something I would have brought up anyway and will seem like a rebuttal but it's not... This is going to be a semantics debate and the definition of a true seal vs what a sea lion is is the key to comprehending why the resolution is false.

I am going to both semantically and scientifically explain why sea lions are firstly semantically neither 'true seals' nor 'fur seals' and then non-semantically analyse why 'eared seal' is a totally wrong name for the subset under which sea lions and fur seals come. I will also explain why, logically, the walrus (which is definitely not a seal but is a pinniped) is as categorically non-true-seal as this category wrongly named 'ear seal'.

The Kritik of the term 'eared seal' and defence against Kritik (whether or not my opponent made them in R1) of the term 'true seal'.

True seals are the purest form of seal and all the species within them are seal-variants. True seals, sea lions, fur seals and walruses are all pinnipeds. Fur seals are overall closer to sea lions than to true seals but I am going to prove that they are on the edge of what 'seal' is and that sea lions go further to separate themselves from the entirety of seals such that the term 'sea lion' is NOT a seal-variant and that therefore it was wrong colloquialism in the English-speaking scientific community that led to 'eared seals' being called that instead of being called 'eared pinnipeds' (as both true seals and walruses have no external ear flaps and this is what makes the 'eared seal' category unique).

In short, 'eared seal' is a completely incorrect English version of the Latin term Otariid/Otary and the term Otariidae. True Seals are Phocidae and the term 'seal' was an English invention that has led to a very wrong categorising of the eared pinniped being called 'eared seal' which is so baltantly wrong because there is indeed scientifically-sound reason that Sea Lions are NOT fur seals and why fur seals and true seals, despite not being the same variant of pinniped, are both seal-variants with sea lions being a different third-group who share enough with 'fur seals' to be considered closer to them than the true seals to have the family of the 

What do all seals have in common that all sea lions do not have or have differently?

1. Swimming style/motion
All seal-types swim by fundamentally propelling themselves forward by their rear flippers. Their front flippers are used for stabilising, turning and assisting the rear flippers.[1][2] On the other hand, sea lions fundamentally swim by using their front flippers as the propellers that pull their body both up and forwards, even commonly gliding on the surface of the water because they are strong enough in the front to enable a constant up-and-forth movement.[1][3]

Their swimming style is more overtly different because sea lions swim by regular bursts, averaging 25mph with the cruising-speed being 11mph.[3] On the other hand, seals swim more steadily with ranges of 14-23mph and the style of swimming being much less bursty (especially true seals follow this).[1]

2. Lacking the capacity to walk on land in any effective manner

Seals all cannot properly walk on land in any way other than caterpillar-wriggling, also known as 'hobbling'.[1][2] This is something unique to what makes seals be seals, while sea lions have the capability to almost walk on land as they can push their body up strongly with their front flippers and use the back to assist as the turning-mechanism.[1][2] The cause of this difference also lies in that sea lions have a much more effective pelvic girdle to enable turning while maintaining a 'walking motion' much like land animals have and much superior to what seals have. Seals swim smoother than sea lions and sea lions walk smoother than seals; whom can't even walk but only crawl in the first place.[3]

3. Hissing and moaning (with growling that sea lions also have) but not roaring and bleating

This is actually a very significant thing, it's not just 'oh they make different noises' but actually sea lions almost 'talk' and actively communicate with trainers and zookeepers etc in ways seals do not. Sea lions are more confident with communicating and put seemingly no effort into keeping things 'secret'. Seals are either actively or passively subtle and secretive having unique hisses and moans that they seem to not want humans to hear. Both growl when angry or threatened but the hissing and quietly moaning are unique to seal-types while roaring and bleating is unique to sea-lion-types.[1]

In fact, sea lions do 'moan' but much lower and squeakier, intending to be heard.
Sea lions hear both above and below the water's surface, although they hear better under water. Studies show sea lions can hear frequencies up to 70,000 Hz, but tend to vocalize within a range of 100 to 10,000 Hz. This is comparable to humans who have a hearing range of 20 to 20,000 Hz. Sea lion vocalizations include barks, clicks, moans, chirps, growls, and squeaks. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that sea lions use echolocation.
- [3]

Any one that has spent time observing Sea Lions will tell you that they are very active when it comes to communication. They have plenty of ways to send messages to each other. While researchers have spent years observing them and recording them, they still have plenty more to learn before they can fully understand what all of their communication efforts mean.

It is true that Sea Lions can roar, but many people think that is a myth unless they have witnessed it themselves. They will continue to get louder and louder too should they feel threatened. Roaring is a way that they can protect their territory when they feel threatened. This is often enough to get both humans and other animals to leave them alone.

It is also true that Sea Lions know how to bark. In fact they often use this type of communication to interact with each other. The barking sounds are believed to mainly come from the males though. They use them when they are looking for females to be a part of their harem before mating occurs.

The can be heard making a variety of sounds that resemble honking and even the sound of trumpets. It is their array of sounds used for communication that can keep humans watching them for hours and hours. Sea Lions are believed to have excellent hearing both on land and in the water.
- [4]

Meanwhile, while male seals can become quite vocal when threatened or aggressive, it is rarer and seals prefer much subtler sounds than sea lions do. True seals, more so than fur seals, especially enjoy communicating in subtle manners saving it for sex, fights or situations where they deem communication vital. Sea lions are very blatantly more communicative-extroverts as opposed to the introverts that seals are. This is more about communication than actual nature as both are social animals overall.

All kinds of seals communicate vocally by making noise with their throat and air. The range, pitch, and variety of these noises, however, are all vast. Arctic seals can groan, chug, or growl in the course of their communication. Weddell seals send out long, low whistles underwater at very high decibel levels, and harbor seals make quiet calls. The variation of these methods shows the highly specified development of each species of seal in response to its environment. Each style of communication suits a particular need.

Male seals are the most vocal because they use their calls to defend their territories. The sounds are amplified underwater and can be heard by other seals over large distances. Arctic seals make long-range calls underwater designed to attract females. Up north under the polar ice, these calls can be heard 30 kilometers away. Above-ground snorts, whistles, and growls are responses to threats from other seals.

Seals that live in polar areas with heavy ice can make loud, long-range calls because their predators cannot get through the ice. Bearded seals in the Arctic make a long whistle underwater that can last for 70 seconds. Harbor seals and others that live in the open oceans would attract killer whales with these loud calls. Instead of being loud, male harbor seals will choose a spot where females will pass by and put on a display of poses and low guttural noise. This is the safer way to attract a mate in open waters.
- [5]

1. In accordance with fact or reality
2. Accurate or exact

So, what's a seal?

Well, here is where Pro is going to have to concede that this is about exactness. Sea Lions are not a seal-type. What happened was that 'eared seals' were wrongly named.

In fact, one definition available online seems to support Pro but ends with 'especially: a fur seal or hair seal as opposed to a sea lion'
[1] Smithsonian's National Zoo. (2018). Dare to Compare: What’s the Difference Between Sea Lions and Seals?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan. 2019].
[2] Ecomare. (2019). Seals, life and facts | Ecomare Texel. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan. 2019].
[3] Dolphin Research Center. (2019). Sea Lion Info - Dolphin Research Center. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan. 2019].
[4] (2014). Sea Lion Communication - Sea Lion Facts and Information. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jan. 2019].
[5] Kunsak, A. (2017). How Do Seals Communicate?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Jan. 2019].
Round 2
Con produces information and articles which show a usage of the word "seal" as narrowly referring to true seals. Based on this, Con concludes that the English-speaking scientific community made a mistake and should have named eared seals as eared pinnipeds. Con argues that this naming mistake diminishes the significance of the word "seals" appearing within the family name for sea lions. Con also points out that "true seals" have the word "true" in the family name and that "eared seals" do not have this.
First, Con has appealed to improper authorities on this subject. The proper authorities to cite in disputes over the meanings of words or terms are dictionaries or encyclopedias. Con's sources are the Smithsonian zoo, a marine mammal charity called "Ecomare", the "dolphin research center",  "Sea lion world", and an article on written by Alexis Kunsak, whoever that is. The only thing that Con has demonstrated with these sources is that some people use the word "seal" in a narrow sense to refer exclusively to true seals as opposed to more broadly referring to both the eared seals and true seals. I will address that fact later, but for the moment I turn to Con's reasoning.
Con's assertion that the scientific community erred in the naming of eared seals is not supported by his information nor articles. This doesn't even make sense. The scientific community may choose whatever names they prefer. If this naming was truly a scientific error, then Con should have produced something more supportive of that. We can tell from Con's work that he searched but apparently found nothing. Con's assertion of a mistake may be soundly rejected due to insufficient evidence. Beyond that, Con's argument about the word "true" is nonsensical. Just because "eared seals" are not "true seals" doesn't mean that eared seals are not seals. It is not as though eared seals are false seals because they are not true seals. Both "eared seals" and "true seals" are seals, which is directly and credibly supported by the sources I provided in round 1.
Now I discuss the usage of the word "seal" as it was used within the articles produced by Con. The explanation for this is not that there was a naming error. Rather, the explanation is that there's a tendency to use "seal" to refer to exclusively to "true seals" within the scientific community, especially among marine biologists and those who work closely with the animals. (see, e.g., "True seals are also known as earless seals, or simply 'seals'." [1]) This usage is informal, largely limited to that community and isn't consistent with the objective meaning of "seal" as it's used in English. The word "seal" - alone and by itself - isn't a prescriptive scientific term. "Seal" likely originated, as most words do, among laymen who categorized life based on what it looked like. Despite the differences between the eared seals and the true seals, both seal families look substantially the same. They are both marine mammals of similar size, shape and color. Of the pinnipeds, it is only the walrus that looks substantially different. The walrus likely got its own name among laymen because it looked noticeably different due its considerable size and prominent tusks.
Con did, however, point to one dictionary entry - . Con quoted the following text: "especially: a fur seal or hair seal as opposed to a sea lion" to support his position. The rest of the text from that entry was "any of numerous carnivorous marine mammals (families Phocidae and Otariidae) that live chiefly in cold regions and have limbs modified into webbed flippers adapted primarily to swimming". This entry for "seal" is inclusive of sea lion and doesn't support Con's position.

Round = 1

In this Round  I shall rebuke Pro's R1. This was not permitted to so in my own R1 and also, if I happen to rebuke Pro's R2 here, it is coincidence as Pro repeated points and even Pro's new R2 points must inherently be countered in my countering of his/her R1.

Pro opens with a syllogism:
P1 - Any organism of the taxonomic family Phocidae or Otariidae is a seal.
P2 - All sea lions are organisms of the taxonomic family Otariidae.
C1 - Therefore, all sea lions are seals.
But P1 is false. P1 is the entire assumption that the side of Pro, and many colloquial definitions of 'seal', make and is the entire point which Con is attacking this entire debate.

Otariidae are eared Pinnipeds, they are not eared seals. If one looks at the ridiculously colloquial source of Wikipedia, it makes Pro's error for him and I'm surprised Pro didn't simply quote Wikipedia to prove P1 'true'.

Wikipedia falsely claims:
Pinnipeds, commonly known as seals, are a widely distributed and diverse clade of carnivorous, fin-footed, semiaquatic marine mammals.

WRONG! Pinnipeds are not commonly known as seals, but a majority of pinnipeds are true seals or fur seals and therefore most pinnipeds are seals. Sea Lions and Walruses are NOT SEALS. Walruses are the only living species of Odobenidae.[6] Now, my source puts colloquial English in brackets but also supports me prior to saying that Otariidae are "eared" seals by the following:

It introduces what pinnipeds are by stating:

Pinnipeds are carnivores that have adapted to an amphibious marine existence. They forage at sea but most come ashore or onto ice at some time of the year to mate, give birth, suckle their young, or to molt. Many of their anatomical features reflect compromises needed to succeed in both marine and terrestrial environments. Externally, pinnipeds share many characteristics with terrestrial carnivores (fissipeds) due to their need for mobility on land.

Pinnipeds have four webbed flippers used to propel their spindle-shaped bodies. Their sensory organs are adapted to function in both air and water: large eyes and well-developed whiskers allow feeding in dimly lit water; tail and external ears are small, limiting drag. Pinnipeds have retained canine teeth but molars are modified for consuming prey whole. All have fur, which is shed or molted annually, but they are insulated primarily by blubber.
- [6]
And furthermore demonstrates the family-tree of categories by the following sample:

^ If you look at this diagram, it is crystal clear that being in any family-tree of Pinniped does not mean you are a seal inherently, this is undeniably accentuated by the walrus but also accentuated by the very fact that any and all seal-variants are named 'seal' to specify that they are not just a pinniped, but more specifically a seal.

What P1 of Pro's entire case and syllogism relies on is that when the English marine biologists translated what should have been 'eared PINNIPED' instead became completely erroneously known colloquially as 'eared SEAL' Con stands to explain that this is totally erroneous.

Pinnipeds have three categories and I'm going to let a research paper abstract do some talking here:

Pinnipeds are charismatic but difficult to study, and taxonomy is poorly understood. An accurate taxonomic framework is essential for studies of biogeography, ecology and conservation.

Morphologic and genetic criteria used to recognize pinniped species and subspecies are evaluated individually for all taxa in the three families: Otariidae (sea lions and fur seals), Odobenidae (walruses) and Phocidae (seals). We advocate a pragmatic approach that, in general, follows the Evolutionary Species Concept and ‘diagnosability’ criterion for subspecies delimitations.
- [7]

Pro would have you believe that if something within a category defies that category in scientifically-sound ways, that the semantics is not at fault but rather than the science is at fault for not matching with the semantics. Con argues that, instead, if the semantics of English colloquial terminology has wrongly formed the term 'eared seal' to be what should be 'eared pinniped' then it follows that if there can be proven things that all seals do, or do not do, that sea lions fail to do, or do (respectively), then it follows that it is the term 'eared seal' at fault and not the term sea lion lacking 'seal' which is at fault.

Pro is trying to say, without having explicitly stated it, that the term 'sea lion' is faulty and should instead perhaps be 'lion seal' or a clear variant of seal beyond what it currently is, as a non-seal subset of Otariidae (eared pinnipeds).

In R1, I stated 3 clear things that separate ALL seals from ALL sea lions. There is much more separating specific seals from sea lions including blubber for true seals, colouring of fur (for fur seals) and much, much more.[1][6] The three that apply to all seals vs all sea lions were swimming style, capacity to walk on land efficiently and use of voice/sounds to communicate in both manner and motive.

The problem with this word 'Otariidae' and such terms is that they are not strictly any language in origin, not even Latin which quite a bit of Taxonomy is from. So, I cannot semantically prove to you that the semantic attack on Con from Pro, is wrong. What I can do, is prove that scientifically and contextually it's severely likely and, in how I have presented my arguments thus far, blatantly true that the Otariidae are a unique group of Pinnipeds that happen to have ears. They are not inherently seals, most blatantly and undeniably proven by the Walrus, the only subset of Obodenidae (unique for having tusks, severe whisker prominence and massive bulk[6]) which is not a seal at all and has yet to be proven to be one by Pro even via hinting. If the Obodeniidae can be non-seal and yet pinniped, it follows that the Otariidae are foremost Pinniped and the be assumed to be unique forms of Pinniped that happen to be eared which may or may not have seals within them and not eared seals by default at all, nor by actually scientifically sound translation. In the source 6 that I use, it's made very clear that 'eared' is that part that's translated correctly but seal is something that the English wrongly added on.

Phocidae, the family of true seals, are not even called seals either but, again, Wikipedia would erroneously support Pro on his/her conquest of truth by stating that apparently the 'true seals' are somehow only one of three types of 'seal lineage' which is total and utter nonsense. Pinnipeds are not seals, it's just that the majority of Pinniped-species are seal-species. This coincidence has led to the erroneous use of 'commonly referred to as seals' to be attached to Pinnipeds and is how the entire nonsense began.

I stand here, today, begging you voters and scientifically literate readers to ask yourselves if the error is in science living up to dictionaries and colloquial English interpretation or if, instead, it is the semantics that has the error in living up to science.

Otariidae are not eared seals, they are eared Pinnipeds, some of which are a form of seal named Fur seals which all have ear flaps, just as sea lions have ear flaps making them distinguishable. Obodenidae can walk as sea lions do and as fur seals can do just a little better than the 'crawling/hobbling' that true seals do and it is said crawling (not just lack of tusks and ear flaps) that makes Phocidae what they are. Fur seals still 'hobble' but can do a very strange 'hobble' as I said whereas sea lions can smoothly mimic land animals as their back flippers and pelvis allow easy flapping of the back fin inside to turn it into back feet like a four-legged animal almost and their front flippers are stronger than seals' due to their swimming style and evolution thus.

Phocidae contain only seals and are considered 'true seals'. Obodenidae may as well be called 'walrus' as it's only got walruses in it but Otariidae DOES NOT only have seals in it, it has sea lions which ARE NOT SEALS for the reasons I elaborated on in R1.

Sources [Continued]
Credit to for helping with the formatting except for source 7 which the source itself helped with.

[6] (2013). Pinnipeds: Seals, Sea Lions, and Walrus | Marine education | Alaska Sea Grant. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Jan. 2019]
[7] BERTA, A. and CHURCHILL, M. (2012), Pinniped taxonomy: review of currently recognized species and subspecies, and evidence used for their description. Mammal Review, 42: 207-234. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2907.2011.00193.x