The Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s American Trail team is celebrating the arrival of a female Gray Seal pup. She was born January 21 to mother Kara.
Keepers have been closely monitoring the pup, which appears to be nursing, moving and bonding well with mom. At 33 years old, Kara is the oldest Gray Seal to give birth in a Zoo. This pup is the third for Kara and 26-year-old father, Gunther.
Animal care staff are cautiously optimistic that the pup will thrive, and Kara is caring for her pup without interference. On January 24 the pup weighed-in at 37 pounds.
Around three weeks of age, the pup will wean and shed her white lanugo coat, revealing a gray and mottled pattern similar to that of the adults. Once she is weaned, keepers will slowly introduce the new pup to the other members of the colony. She will join the Zoo’s adult Gray Seals and two Harbor Seals, Luke and Squeegee, on exhibit and public view in the spring.
Keepers initially suspected that Kara was pregnant based on her physical changes, appetite and weight gain, among other cues. They have trained the seals to voluntarily participate in radiographs and ultrasounds, with veterinarians present, as part of their routine medical care. An ultrasound in August confirmed Kara was pregnant, and animal care staff had been conducting bi-weekly ultrasounds to track the pup’s development. The Zoo will continue to provide updates on the Gray Seals through its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo received a recommendation to breed Kara and Gunther from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP). An SSP matches individual animals across the country for breeding in order to maintain a healthy, genetically diverse and self-sustaining population.
Although once endangered, Gray Seals (Halichoerus grypus) are now listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In the wild, they range from North America to the Baltic Sea.