Brookfield Zoo Welcomes Two New Gray Seal Pups

Next time you visit Pinniped Point, don't be surprised if you see double.

Lily at her new pup (Photo: Chicago Zoological Society)

Two gray seals were recently born within days of one another, January 9 and 10 to be exact. The yet-to-be-named female pups are currently behind the scenes bonding with their mothers, Lily and Tasha, and are practicing their swimming skills in a pool specially designed for the newborns.

The pups will make their public debut sometime in early spring.

Lily's unnamed pup playing. (Photo: Chicago Zoological Society)

This is the fourth successful birth for Lily, who turns 16 on January 25. Her previous offspring—all males born in 2014, 2016, and 2017—are currently on breeding loans at other accredited North American zoos. The other pup is the first successful birth for 16-year-old Tasha. The two moms are half-sisters and arrived at Brookfield Zoo in November 2007. The sire of both newborns is 19-year-old Kiinaq (pronounced KEY-knack), who arrived at Brookfield Zoo in 2018. Kiinaq was stranded in the wild and deemed unreleasable when he was only a few months old.

The recent arrival of Kiinaq to Brookfield Zoo was based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gray Seal Species Survival Plan® (SSP). An SSP is a cooperative population management and conservation program for select species in accredited North American zoos and aquariums.

Tasha and her new pup. (Photo: Chicago Zoological Society)

"These are the first female gray seals to be born at Brookfield Zoo and are very significant because they will help us maintain a healthy and genetically diverse self-sustaining population for the species in professional care,” said Rita Stacey, curator of marine mammals for CZS and also the AZA’s studbook keeper and population management planner for gray seals. In this role, she documents the pedigree and the entire demographic history of each individual in the gray seal population.

At birth, 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. 

In the wild, gray seal pups are born in the winter and weaned at three weeks of age--one of the shortest nursing periods among pinnipeds (a group of marine mammals that are winged- or web-footed.) The milk of a lactating gray seal is extremely rich. The two pups weighed 32 and 36 pounds at birth and have been gaining several pounds a day since—nearly tripling their weight in their first two weeks of life. By the time they are weaned in about a week, they will have nearly quadrupled their birth weight. Gray seal pups need to grow quickly because once weaned they are on their own and need to be able to fend for themselves as they go out to sea to hunt for food.

“Once the pups begin to wean from their mothers, the marine mammal care staff will begin offering fish to the young gray seals,” said Stacey. “At that time, the pups will begin to establish their relationships with the care team, which is important for the animals’ overall healthcare and well-being.”

The gray seal population is currently doing well in the wild—Western North Atlantic, the Eastern North Atlantic, and the Baltic Sea—however, they still face threats such as entanglement, human-caused injuries, water pollution, and climate change. The population in North American zoos and aquariums is 25 individuals in 10 facilities, including the five gray seals at Brookfield Zoo.

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Posted: 1/24/2020 2:29:31 PM by Sean Keeley

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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