The Accuracy of Cuteness

A few people linked me to the ultimate cute animal list over the holiday, it’s a list of 75 lists of photos of animals, pretty intense but I’ve been working my way through it (Yes, I even treat cute animals like homework). Most of the shots are wonderful but then I got to the list titled “101 Cute Seals That Are Also Babies“. What could be wrong with that, right? Well, dear reader, many of these photos were not of seals at all! (some of them aren’t even babies, but that I’ll let slide)

Now I’d argue that I’m not trying to be pedantic, but really I kind of am. Cuteness can and should be used to teach lessons about biology, so that’s what I’m attempting to do! When it comes to seals there are true seals and not so true seals, often called eared seals. The true seals belong to the family phocidae, and the not so true seals are otariidae which includes sea lions, the most commonly misidentified of the bunch. They’re all pinnipeds and walruses round out the group by being their own family altogether.

There are a few ways to tell the difference between true seals and eared seals. The most obvious choice would be to look at the ears. Otariids have an external flap whereas phocids just have a hole.

This is an external ear, obviously.

A hole in the head, no flaps required.

The second big clue flippers. True seals swim with their hind flippers and when they are on land they kind of flop around or do the worm. Eared seals swim with their front flippers and can support themselves better on land, like big floppy wet dogs (they are all in the order Carnivora, after all).

Standing tall.

Dancing the worm, phocid style.

There are other behavioral and developmental differences between the groups as well, but the two clues mentioned above should be enough to get you thinking on the right track. With that in mind I invite you to go check out the photo list yourself and see if you pick out the seal impostors. My results are below.

So I went through all the of the photos posted and put them each in their correct category. SPOILER WARNING!

Photos of otariids: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 36, 39, 40, 43, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54, 64, 71, 73, 74, 80, 91, 97, 100

Photos of phocids: 8, 11, 14, 15, 21, 23, 25, 27, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 41, 42, 44, 45*, 46, 47, 48, 50, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 72, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 98, 99, 101

* – 37 and 45 are the same photo, so it’s really a total of 100 photos. There may have been more repeats that I didn’t catch.

So that’s 41% non-seal in the seal photo post. There’s still 100% cuteness, but it comes at the cost of accuracy. Am I ridiculous for caring at all? Probably, but I like to take these moments of levity to hopefully clear up misconceptions about the world. And if you ever get bit while diving/surfing/swimming at least now you have better odds of identifying the culprit right? Never trust the cuteness…


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5 Responses to The Accuracy of Cuteness

  1. benNo Gravatar 7 January, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    so let me tell you about andre the harbour seal. there’s a fun story. andre was a super cute seal that a family in maine found and nursed back to health as a pup. they later sent him to an aquarium in boston, who sent him back to the ocean, since he was healthy. he swam back to maine to find his people. and he continued to return every summer. everyone in town loved him and it was very cute.
    so they made a kids book about it which was very popular.
    so they made a kids movie based on the book and cast an ugly ass SEA LION as the cute seal. booo.

  2. DaynaJDNo Gravatar 16 January, 2011 at 6:58 am #

    I like that you cleared up this little misconception. I’m a zookeeper and I hear stupid shit like this every day, including that tigers are orange with black stripes and lions are white with black stripes (yes, an actual customer said this to her kids while standing in front of a sign that said “White Tigers”). So any time someone takes the time to point out that true seals don’t have ears and eared-seals, well, do, I appreciate it. Now if you’d like to visit my zoo and inform the public that lions are in fact tawny, don’t have stripes, and really look nothing like tigers, that would be awesome.

    And Ben – seal lions are awesome! But, yes, harbor seals are cool too.

    • RyanNo Gravatar 16 January, 2011 at 8:52 am #

      I love zoos! Except I’m kind of impossible to go with because I rattle of info nonstop before even seeing signs or displays. It takes a patient person to stick with me.

    • LeilahNo Gravatar 19 January, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      It’s one of the things I find hardest about going to zoos and aquariums… not correcting parents all the time. For goodness’ sake, there are signs all over the place, you just have to read them! =)

  3. DaynaJDNo Gravatar 16 January, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Haha. I’m actually the same. AndI have to listen to my iPod of I go to zoos by myself because if I don’t I end up correcting random strangers. For some reason most people don’t like that.

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