Babies often arrive at the most inopportune times! Tuesday night just before midnight, New England Aquarium’s overnight engineer, realized that Ursula, a sweet 14-year-old Northern Fur Seal, might be in labor. She immediately made a phone call, and shortly thereafter, several marine mammal trainers and veterinary staff arrived. They found Ursula in a corner with her newborn pup, which was searching for its mother’s nipples. With some maternal direction and repositioning, the dark brown, 8 lb. pup finally found mother’s milk and settled down for some nursing and bonding. Kathy Streeter, the Aquarium’s marine mammal curator, was thrilled with Ursula’s maternal instincts and care, particularly since this was her first pup.
The birth was the first in the Aquarium’s dedicated program for rare Northern Fur Seals. The newborn is only the 13th Northern Fur Seal to be found in an American aquarium or zoo. Seven of those animals make the New England Aquarium’s new, harbor-side pinniped exhibit their home. Several years ago as the Aquarium planned for the construction of its $11 million New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, staff made a strategic decision to gather Northern Fur Seals from around the country and start a dedicated breeding program.
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Ursula and her pup will not be visible to the public for a while as they enjoy some quiet bonding time behind the scenes. Sometime later this summer, they will join the rest of an increasingly youthful seal and sea lion colony. The unnamed pup will join Leu (pronounced Lou), a rescued 1-year-old male Fur Seal, and Zoe and Sierra, a pair of 2-year-old, female sea lions who are the subject of the Aquarium’s popular summer marketing campaign called “Mischief."
Northern Fur Seals have the second thickest fur of any animal and can be found throughout the chilly waters of the north Pacific but most commonly off the coast of Alaska. They were once hunted to the brink of extinction for their pelts but have become a conservation success story.