Visit the southern California shore and it's hard to miss the pinnipeds. Sea lions and harbor seals are common sights along the beaches and among the waves, carrying on a blubbery legacy that has been going on for tens of millions of years. Shifting and evolving communities of pinnipeds have called the California coast home for over 25 million years, and now paleontologist Jorge Velez-Juarbe has added another species to the list.

The new pinniped is an eared seal, more closely related to today's sea lions than harbor seals. Velez-Juarbe has dubbed it Eotaria citrica, and this small pinniped swam in waters that covered Orange County around 15 million years ago.

Eotaria wasn't the only prehistoric pinniped around. The same fossil beds have yielded another closely-related species - Eotaria crypta - as well as ancient walrus relatives and oddities like Allodesmus. Not that this grouping was consistent all along the coast. The aggregation at the spot the new Orange County Eotaria were found is similar to that of another famous spot of the same age - Sharktooth Hill - yet Eotaria is missing from the Sharktooth Hill sediments. Perhaps the reason has something to do with differences in the way fossils were preserved in the different spots, Velez-Juarbe writes, or something to do with the environmental preferences of the pinnipeds.

All the same, Eotaria citrica stands out as an early form of eared seal from a time when most pinnipeds were smaller in stature. Looking at the SoCal seals through time, Velez-Juarbe highlights an increase in body size through different pinniped lineages. This dovetails with changes seen among marine birds, mollusks, and whales in the area, hinting that ocean productivity was increasing as the millennia rolled by. Eotaria lived at a time just before that wave.

Pinniped faunas of southern California through time. Credit: Velez-Juarbe 2017

Fossil Facts

Name: Eotaria citrica

Meaning: Eotaria is a genus of early eared seals, and citrica is a nod to California's Orange County where the fossils were found.

Age: Miocene, about 15 million years ago. 

Where in the world?: Orange Country, California.

What sort of critter?: An eared seal.

Size: About four and a half feet long.

How much of the organism’s body is known?: A nearly-complete left lower jaw.


Velez-Juarbe, J. 2017. Eotaria citrica, sp. nov., a new stem otariid from the "Topanga" formation of Southern California. PeerJ. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3022

Previous Paleo Profiles:

The Light-Footed Lizard
The Maoming Cat
Knight’s Egyptian Bat
The La Luna Snake
The Rio do Rasto Tooth
Bob Weir's Otter
Egypt's Canine Beast
The Vastan Mine Tapir
Pangu's Wing
The Dawn Megamouth
The Genga Lizard
The Micro Lion
The Mystery Titanosaur
The Echo Hunter
The Lo Hueco Titan
The Three-Branched Cicada
The Monster of Minden
The Pig-Footed Bandicoot
Hayden's Rattlesnake Demon
The Evasive Ostrich Seer
The Paradoxical Mega Shark
The Tiny Beardogs
The Armored Fish King
North America's Pangolin
The Invisible-Tusked Elephant
The Mud Dragon
The Spike-Toothed Salmon
The Dream Coast Crocodile
Buriol's Robber
Ozimek's Flyer
The Northern Naustoceratopsian
The High Arctic Flyer
The Tomatillo From the End of the World
The Short-Faced Hyena
The Mighty Traveler from Egg Mountain
Keilhau's Ichthyosaur
Mexico's Ancient Horned Face
Mauricio Fernández's Plesiosaur
New Zealand's Giant Dawn Penguin