A brave and curious gray seal pup is making a splash on American Trail! One-year-old female Jo-Jo was rescued from the wild and made her debut at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in January. Get to know Jo-Jo’s personality and learn more about her second chance at life from assistant curator Rebecca Sturniolo.
What are your favorite facts about gray seals?
Some visitors will bark at the gray seals, mistaking them for their loud and gregarious cousins, the California sea lions. Gray seals sound quite different from sea lions—they whistle, moan, woo and expel air loudly through their nostrils.
Another favorite fact of mine is that these marine mammals are amazing divers and have been recorded at depths up to 1,500 feet! They use their sensitive vibrissae (whiskers) to help navigate underwater.
How did Jo-Jo come to live at the Zoo?
JoJo was born in the wild and found about three hours away from here on Ventnor Beach, New Jersey, with injuries to her neck and jaw. She was rescued by the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. Staff there discovered that cataracts in Jo-Jo’s eyes greatly reduced her ability to see; she seems to be able to only sense shadows and movement.
Her impairment made it difficult for her to catch fish, and rescue staff deemed her non-releasable. Luckily, our team has experience and expertise in working with pinnipeds who are visually impaired. We took her under our care Sept. 16, and she is doing very well! It is wonderful that we could offer Jo-Jo a second chance at life as an ambassador for her species.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is one of just 10 institutions that house gray seals in the United States. It’s a pretty unique and special experience to see these animals up close. I hope that when visitors meet her, they will take pride in the work we are doing.