Honoring Our Venerable Pinnipeds

In honor of the Aquarium’s upcoming 25th anniversary, we in the Mammals department thought it would be appropriate to highlight the animals that have been with us since the beginning—twenty five years and counting.

At a facility like the Aquarium, with its thousands of animals spread across dozens of exhibits, changes within the population are to be expected. Animals pass on or are transferred to other facilities; exhibits are changed or rearranged. However, there are a few animals that we’ve had the great pleasure of knowing since the Aquarium’s opening.

Sea lions Max and Quill ham it up for the camera

Our pinnipeds, in particular, are a long-lived group. Some of these seals and sea lions are well into the golden years for their species, while a few are very nearly record-setters in their advanced age.

Our oldest California sea lion also happens to be our largest. Max was born on May 20, 1990, and arrived at the Aquarium May 1, 1992. Despite his intimidating size, Max wasn’t always the dominant sea lion—that distinction belonged to an older female named Lea. She pushed him around quite a bit the first year, but after that point Max asserted himself. Now, the 500-pound Max leads the group, though he’s really mellowed out in his senior years.

Quill the sea lion was born on June 12, 1990, and arrived at the Aquarium on May 1, 1992. Trainers knew her to be a bit of a dynamo in her younger years: Despite being an animal that loved to work and do high energy behaviors, she had a bit of an aggressive dominance tendency that staff had to work through. Now, she’s our oldest female and although she still has lots of energy, she certainly enjoys her down-time.

Skinny the harbor seal gets her close-up

Our other pinnipeds, the harbor seals, live between 20-30 years in the wild, with females typically outlasting males. In captivity, their lifespan is extended, with females reaching age 40 or older. Skinny, 41, is not only our oldest harbor seal, but she’s one of the oldest seals currently residing in any AZA facility! She was born in 1975 and came to us on April 14, 1992. When Skinny was younger, she was rather feisty and reigned as the alpha female for the seals. Once her sight started to go as she aged, her assertiveness waned, and her trust in staff increased. Every once in a while though, the young girl comes out for a few minutes.

Last but certainly not least, Boots the seal was born in 1987 and arrived here on May 19, 1992. Boots has always been the most laid-back seal of the group—sometimes to the point of being outright lazy. Her behavior hasn’t changed much over the years. She puts out just enough energy to get though her day. She’s even been known to drop fish that a trainer has given her and stare at it until the trainer picks it back up and gives it to her again!

With all the careful attention and positive reinforcement we as mammalogists provide, there’s no doubt that the Aquarium’s aging pinnipeds have plenty of quality time ahead of them. Here’s to the golden years!