Blog: Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare

Gray Seal Birth First of 2016 at Brookfield Zoo

gray seal pup born at Brookfield Zoo

The Chicago Zoological Society is happy to announce its first birth of 2016 at Brookfield Zoo. Lily, an 11-year-old gray seal, gave birth to a male pup on January 2. The two will remain behind the scenes for several weeks to allow them time to bond.

Gray seal pups are born with long, white fur called lanugo (pronounced la-NOO-go), which is molted in two to four weeks and replaced with shorter, stiffer hair similar to that of adults. Although guests will most likely not be able to see the pup on exhibit at Pinniped Point before she molts, they can view updated photos and video of her on the zoo’s Facebook page or Youtube channel.

At birth, the pup weighed just over 30 pounds, and staff estimate that he will triple or quadruple her weight in the next month. The mom’s milk is extremely rich, and the pup will gain several pounds a day. Gray seals only nurse for about three weeks and then the pup will be introduced to a fish diet.

The pup’s birth is very important to the gray seal population in North American institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Although their numbers are not threatened in the wild (they are found in the Western North Atlantic, the Eastern North Atlantic, and the Baltic Sea), currently there are only 24 individuals in eight institutions. Rita Stacey, curator of marine mammals for CZS, is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ studbook keeper for gray seals. In this role, she documents the pedigree and entire demographic history of each individual in the gray seal population. These collective histories are known as the population's genetic and demographic identity and are invaluable tools used to track and manage each animal.

gray seal pup born at Brookfield Zoo

This pup is the second for Lily and the sire, 12-year-old Boone. Charles, who was born on January 1, 2014, is their first. He will be leaving Brookfield Zoo sometime this spring for another institution to be paired with a young female. Although neither will be at breeding age, animal care staff hope they will bond and eventually produce offspring, adding to the North American zoo and aquarium population.

To prepare Charles for his trip, marine mammal staff are training him to voluntarily go into a large crate. “Using positive reinforcement and the trusting relationship that we have developed with Charles over the last two years, we have been preparing him for his travels ahead and so far the experience has been a good one for him.” said Stacey. “These enrichment sessions also allow Charles to participate in his own health care during routine exams.”

Posted: 1/5/2016 10:23:37 AM by Steve Pine Filed under: gray seal, grey seal, marine mammal, seal

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