News Release
 
Contact: Sondra Katzen, Public Relations, 708.688.8351, sondra.katzen@czs.org
 
November 18, 2020
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Note: Download photos of Georgie at bottom of press release. 
 
Grey Seal Finds New Home at Brookfield Zoo
 

Brookfield, Ill. — Animal care staff at Brookfield Zoo recently welcomed Georgette, nicknamed “Georgie,” a grey seal on October 21. Since her birth, it appears the approximately 7-year-old pinniped has had defects in both her eyes. This may be why, at only a couple months old in March 2013, she was found stranded on an island in Georgetown, Maine, which is located near the mouth of the Kennebec River and Gulf of Maine in the Atlantic Ocean. While being rehabilitated by staff at the Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center in Biddeford, Maine, it was suspected that she suffered additional eye trauma prior to the time she stranded. Because she is fully blind in the left eye and functionally blind in her right eye, authorities at National Marine Fisheries Service deemed her unreleasable back to the wild. In June 2013, she was transferred to Detroit Zoo, where staff named her after the town where she was found.

At Brookfield Zoo, Georgie recently received a complete veterinary evaluation under anesthesia, during which a veterinary ophthalmologist further evaluated her eyes. As a result of abnormal development of visual pathways in the brain due to vision deprivation shortly after birth, Georgie displays a wandering nystagmus, a condition that results in rhythmic, regular movements of her eyes.

Even with her loss of vision, Georgie is getting well acclimated to her new home. Brookfield Zoo’s Seven Seas staff has a lot of experience in working with deaf and/or blind pinnipeds. Over the years, the zoo has provided a forever home to several grey seals and California sea lions found stranded in the wild and unable to be returned due to similar situations like Georgie’s.

“Since Georgie has been blind her entire life, this is all she knows, and she has adapted very well to life in human care,” said Rita Stacey, curator of marine mammals for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the zoo. “With her move to Brookfield Zoo, Georgie hasn’t skipped a beat. She is an outgoing and curious seal and spends time exploring her new habitat and getting to know her new caretakers.”

The animal care team needs to interact with Georgie a little differently than the other pinnipeds. During husbandry training sessions, staff usually use visual cues when engaging with the animals. However, in Georgie’s case, staff use verbal, audible, and tactile cues. For instance, staff made a shaker target—a small buoy that is filled with rocks on the end of a short pole—so Georgie can hear and follow the sound when staff ask her to move between the four outdoor habitats.

In addition to getting to know the staff, this week Georgie is being reintroduced to Kiinaq (pronounced key-knack), a 19-year-old grey seal with whom she was also pool mates with when they were both at Detroit Zoo. The pairing of Georgie and Kiinaq is based on a recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Grey Seal Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative population management and conservation program for select species in accredited North American zoos and aquariums. Each SSP manages the breeding of a species to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. Both grey seals have wild origins, making them very valuable genetically to the overall zoo and aquarium population. Eventually, Georgie also will be introduced to the zoo’s other grey seals—Tasha and Lily, who are both 16 years old, and Peanut and Celia, 9 month-old pups. Currently, there are only 24 grey seals in nine accredited U.S. zoos and aquariums. Brookfield Zoo has the largest group with six individuals.
 

Photo Captions—credit Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society
30 and 9687: Georgie, a 7-year-old grey seal, recently arrived at Brookfield Zoo. When she was only a few months old, Georgie was found stranded on an island in Georgetown, Maine. Due to being fully blind in one eye and functionally blind in the other, authorities at National Marine Fisheries Service deemed her unreleasable back to the wild.

9968, 9984, and 9993: Georgie, a 7-year-old grey seal, with Mairim Martinez, a senior animal care specialist at Brookfield Zoo, during a husbandry training session. Because Georgie has visual impairments, staff use verbal, audible, and tactile cues, including a shaker target—a small buoy that is filled with rocks on the end of a short pole—so she can hear and follow the sound when staff ask her to do a variety of behaviors such as going in and out of the pool.

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About the Chicago Zoological Society
The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society is to inspire conservation leadership by engaging people and communities with wildlife and nature. The Chicago Zoological Society is a private nonprofit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The Society is known throughout the world for its international role in animal population management and wildlife conservation. Its Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare is at the forefront of animal care that strives to discover and implement innovative approaches to zoo animal management. Brookfield Zoo is the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, meeting American Humane Association’s rigorous certification standards. The zoo is located at 8400 31st Street in Brookfield, Illinois, between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and also is accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, CTA and PACE bus service. For further information, visit CZS.org.
 
 
 

MEDIA CONTACT:

Sondra Katzen
Director of Public Relations
Office: 708-688-8351
Cell Phone: 708-903-2071
E-mail: Sondra.Katzen@CZS.org

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