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Pinnipeds, commonly known as seals, are a diverse clade of carnivorous, fin-footed, semiaquatic marine mammals. There are 33 living species of pinnipeds, and fossils show more than 50 extinct species. Interestingly, some of seals’ closest living relatives are bears and musteloids (weasels, raccoons, skunks, and red pandas). However, seals diverged from those types of mammals about 50 million years ago.
Seals range in size from the 1 m (3 ft 3 in) and 45 kg (99 lb) Baikal seal to the 5 m (16 ft) and 3,200 kg (7,100 lb) southern elephant seal. These animals have streamlined bodies and four limbs that are modified into flippers. Though not as fast in the water as dolphins, seals are more flexible and agile. Additionally, seals have well-developed senses. That’s because their eyesight and hearing work well in both air and water. Moreover, they have an advanced tactile system—with very sensitive whiskers.
These animals have a layer of fat, or blubber, under the skin to keep warm in the cold water. Other than the walrus, all species are covered in fur.