This update was written by American Trail keeper Sam Milne.
Over the last couple of weeks, our team has watched our California sea lion pup transform into an independent and curious pinniped full of personality!
When mom, Calli, is napping or swimming in their enclosure behind the scenes, the pup will often explore on its own—investigating enrichment items, playing with leaves and watching the other adult sea lions through the mesh barrier that separates their enclosures. When Calli is participating in a husbandry training session with keepers, the pup will either wander off to explore on its own or try to play with mom by biting her rear flippers.
The pup continues to practice its swimming skills—we have even observed it porpoising out of the water! Before the pup goes on exhibit, we want to ensure it is able to navigate some of the higher ledges and deeper water in its habitat. Meantime, the pup continues to build upon these skills in our holding area under mom and keeper supervision.
At 7 weeks old, our pup already weighs 33 pounds. (Sea lions typically weigh between 20 and 25 pounds at birth.) Although pups are born with teeth, they will nurse exclusively for six months. Some pups have been documented nursing for up to a year. The length of time our pup will nurse will depend on Calli’s comfort level.
Following the pup’s birth, our Department of Nutrition Sciences recommended that we feed Calli nearly three times as much food as her maintenance diet would be at this time of year if she were not lactating. Over time, we have reduced the amount of herring, capelin, squid, butterfish and mackerel she gets based on our nutritionist’s recommendations. Now, she receives twice as much as her maintenance amount—about 22 pounds of food.
Since the pup spends most of its time in the water or on its belly while on land, we have not been able to determine whether the pup is a male or female. Its first veterinary exam is scheduled for October, so we will learn its sex at that time.
When the pup was born, we wanted to provide Calli with a quiet environment where the pair could bond. To minimize noise and distraction, we kept our two adult female sea lions—Summer and Sidney—in the public-facing area of the habitat. After about a week, we gave them access to the hall adjacent to Calli’s pool. Initially, they did not pay much attention to the pup, and Calli seemed very comfortable with the adults being in close proximity.
Since their interactions were going smoothly, we gave the adults overnight “howdy” access to Calli and her pup—they were able to see, smell and interact with one another through a mesh barrier separating their enclosures. Around the time the pup turned a month old, our team started to see the pup approach and peek through the mesh, sniffing and touching noses with the adults.
Last week, we began supervised face-to-face introductions behind the scenes. One by one, we opened the gate between the pup and Summer and Sidney. Overall, their interactions with the pup have been positive.
This is a positive sign that we are one step closer to our sea lion pup making its debut. If all continues to go well, the pup will go on exhibit in the next few weeks! We will be sure to keep visitors posted on the timing of the pup’s debut via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Love pinnipeds? During your next visit, don’t miss the daily seal or sea lion demonstration at 11:15 a.m. on American Trail!