Gray Seal Pup Growing and Thriving Mar 26, 2014

This Update Was Written By American Trail Keeper Chelsea Grubb.

Gray Seal Pup swimming in water pushing ball with nose

Where is the seal pup?

Our seal pup has an entire holding pool to herself behind-the-scenes of American trail! She is neighbors with her mom (Kara), grandmother (Selkie), and aunt (Kjya). Although they are separated from the pup by a mesh fence, they're able to see, smell, and interact with each other through this safety barrier.

Separating the pup from her mother is a way for us to mimic the social dynamics that happen in the wild. In their natural habitat, a mother gray seal will leave her pup once it is fully weaned—around 3 weeks of age.

What does she eat?

Her diet, which consists of herring and mackerel, has helped her pack on the pounds—all 120 of them! We are working with our Nutrition Department to create a diverse and nutritious menu for her healthy appetite. The adult gray seals typically receive herring, capelin, butterfish, and squid three to four times a day.

Gray Seal Pup eating a fish

What does she like to do for fun?

Our seal pup can spend hours playing with her toys! She seems to enjoy pushing the floating items (pool buoys, puzzle feeders, ring toys) along the surface of the water. She'll sink them with her nose and watch them fly up to the surface of the water! These toys give the pup an opportunity to use her natural abilities and behaviors in new and exciting ways. Zoo fans can get involved by purchasing a toy for our growing pup through the Enrichment Wish List.

Gray Seal Pup pushing a plastic floating ball with her hose in the water

Has the seal pup started training?

Yes! We've started training the pup. She's a fast learner! As you may know, our pup's grandmother, Selkie, is a true Navy Seal and was trained by the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego to insert and remove equipment, use a screwdriver and turn a large wheel valve.

While our pup won't learn those skills per se, she's learning behaviors that will help her day-to-day interactions with her caregivers and family go smoothly.

Gray Seal Pup taking fish from keeper

Has the pup met the zoo's other seals?

The pup is able to interact with some of the Zoo's seals through a mesh barrier. Our adult seals don't seem to mind the pup, though she is very interested in and curious about them! She watches her elders intently during their training sessions.

Before she has direct contact with the other seals, she must master "shifting"?moving from one enclosed area to another. If a situation arose where we needed to quickly separate the seals into smaller social groups, we could do so by asking them to shift.

When will the pup make her grand debut?

We're letting the animals determine their own timeline. As our pup gets the hang of shifting, we will arrange for the adults to meet the pup, one at a time, without a physical barrier. We watch these introductions closely to ensure it is a positive experience for everyone.

At first, these sessions will be brief. If all goes well, we will gradually increase the time that the pup has with the other seals. Ultimately, we want to ensure that her first exploration of the seal habitat is a safe and fun experience for our entire colony.

How do you know if an introduction is successful?

As animal keepers, we're trained to watch for behavioral indicators of social stress as well as social harmony. All of the adult seals in our exhibit have interacted with a pup at one time or another. Hopefully, these past interactions will work in our favor!