Fur Seal Adapts To New Home At Seaworld

April 10, 2008

The fur seal spent nearly nine months recovering at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

A rescued Guadalupe fur seal that had been in rehabilitation at the Oregon Coast Aquarium is doing well in her new home at SeaWorld in San Diego. The fur seal, named Lola, is adapting well to her environment in the warmer waters of San Diego’s SeaWorld. Tom Goff, head of the SeaWorld mammal department, reports that Lola is in a holding pool behind-the-scenes at Pacific Point, the pinniped exhibit at SeaWorld. Goff said she gets along well with her pool mates, which include California sea lions and harbor seals. Once permission is granted from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), she will make her permanent home in the Pacific Point exhibit.

When the seal was brought to the Oregon Coast Aquarium last August, the goal of husbandry staff was to rehabilitate and release her. Guadalupe fur seals are protected in the U.S. as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and it is the policy to make every effort to return threatened species to their habitat if the animal demonstrates the ability to survive on its own. This animal failed to do so and the decision was made not to release her. The National Marine Fisheries Service was the ultimate decision maker on her fate, based upon reports of her condition by husbandry staff.

The fur seal’s health improved markedly after nearly six months of loving care by Aquarium mammalogists. “She began to vocalize a lot and appeared to enjoy interacting with mammal staff.” said Judy Tuttle, Aquarium Curator of Mammals. Tuttle said she will live in warmer waters of her natural habitat and will be well cared for by SeaWorld staff. “She flew down on a FedEx flight accompanied by two SeaWorld staff members, who arrived here ahead of flight time to familiarize themselves with her,” said Tuttle.

She was brought in with a healed scar on her back that husbandry staff speculated might be a shark bite. She also had a prolapsed lens (no vision) in on eye and a very large cataract in her good eye, indicating poor vision. By the end of August the seal showed signs of improvement and in October, Veterinarian Dr. Sara Maxwell, consultant to veterinarian Dr. Brown, looked at the seal’s cataract and determined that she was not a candidate for cataract surgery or for release in her opinion. A broken canine tooth was removed in November and the seal was again evaluated for its ability to be released. At that time, an examination by Dr. Brown determined that she had no teeth in her lower right jaw, and the appearance of her teeth indicated that she is an old animal.

By November, Aquarium husbandry staff recommended to the National Marine Fisheries Service that the Guadalupe fur seal not be released and talks began with SeaWorld in San Diego about transferring her there. Since she would not be released back into the wild, and human imprinting would no longer be a concern, mammalogists could then begin to train her to come to a station to be fed. She will live the rest of her days with other fur seals and California sea lions in her new home. The cost of caring for the seal at the Oregon Coast Aquarium was covered in part by the National Marine Fisheries Service and grants from the Kinsman Foundation and the Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation.

“We are proud to use our expertise to mitigate human impact on injured wildlife and to help in the recovery of endangered or threatened wildlife,” said Jim Burke, Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry. “This Guadalupe Fur seal is one of an estimated population of about 7,000 and we were happy to play a role in the efforts to get her back to the wild.” Burke said that although the seal cannot be released, she will play an important role in helping to educate people about the uniqueness of her species.