“Two Gray Seals Born at Brookfield Zoo”

Two female gray seal pups were born at Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois in January.  The two as-yet-unnamed seal pups were born to mothers Lily and Tasha on Thursday, January 9, A.D. 2020 and Friday, January 10, A.D. 2020.  They are currently behind the scenes and they will appear at Pinniped Point in the spring.

Lily subsequently turned sixteen on Saturday, January 25, A.D. 2020.  This is her first daughter and fourth pup overall.  She gave birth to male pups in 2014, 2016, and 2017.  Those older brothers of the newborn pup are all on loan for breeding purposes to other North American zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (A.Z.A.).

This is the first pup for Tasha, who is also sixteen.  She and Lily are half-sisters.  They arrived together at Brookfield Zoo in November of 2007.

The two newborn pups are also half-sisters.  Their common father is nineteen-year-old Kiinaq (pronounced “Key-knack”).  He arrived at Bookfield Zoo in 2018.  The Chicago Zoological Society (C.Z.S.), which operates the Brookfield Zoo, stated, “Kiinaq was stranded in the wild and deemed unreleasable when he was only a few months old.”

Kiinaq came to the Brookfield Zoo at the recommendation of the Gray Seal Species Survival Plan® (S.S.P.).  The A.Z.A. administers the Gray Seal S.S.P.  This and other S.S.P.s are programs under which accredited zoos and aquariums in North America make a cooperative effort for the management and conservation of an animal species.

“These are the first female gray seals to be born at Brookfield Zoo and are very significant because they will help us maintain a healthy and genetically diverse self-sustaining population for the species in professional care,” stated Rita Stacey, Curator of Marine Mammals for the C.Z.S. She is also the A.Z.A.’s studbook keeper and population management planner for gray seals.  According to the C.Z.S., “In this role, she documents the pedigree and the entire demographic history of each individual in the gray seal population.”

Gray seals are not gray at birth.  Rather, when they are born, pups have a coat of lanugo (pronounced “la-noo-go”), long, white fur that they molt in two to four weeks.  The replacement coat of fur is shorter and stiffer hair comparable to adult fur. 

It is typical in the wild for gray seal pups to be born in wintertime and warned at three weeks of age, which is one of the shortest periods amongst pinnipeds (a group of marine mammals that includes thirty-four species of seals, sea lions, and walruses).  A lactating gray seal’s milk is extremely rich. 

The two pups weighed thirty-two and thirty-six pounds at birth, respectively, and have subsequently gained several pounds per day.  In their first two weeks of life, they nearly tripled their weight. 

The C.Z.S. estimated on Friday, January 24, A.D. 2020, “By the time they are weaned in about a week, they will have nearly quadrupled their birth weight.  Gray seal pups need to be able to fend for themselves as they go out to sea to hunt for food.”

“Once the pups begin to wean from their mothers, the marine mammal care staff will begin offering fish to the young gray seals,” stated Ms. Stacey.  “At that time, the pups will begin to establish their relationships with the care team, which is important for the animals’ overall healthcare and well-being.”

Currently, gray seal populations are doing well in the wilds of the Western North Atlantic Ocean, the Eastern North Atlantic Ocean, and the Baltic Sea, the C.Z.S. noted, “however, they still face threats such as entanglement [in fishing nets], human-caused injuries, water pollution, and climate change.”  North American zoos and aquariums have twenty-five gray seals in ten facilities, including the five at Brookfield Zoo.

Credit: Brookfield Zoo Caption: Two female gray seal pups were born at Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois in January.  The two as-yet-unnamed seal pups were born to mothers Lily and Tasha on Thursday, January 9, A.D. 2020 and Friday, January 10, A.D. 2020.  They are currently behind the scenes and they will appear at Pinniped Point in the spring.

Figure 1 Credit: Jim Schulz, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: This female gray seal pup was born on Thursday, January 9, A.D. 2020.  Her parents are Kiinaq and Lily.  Currently, she is bonding with Lily. 

Figure 2 Credit: Jim Schulz, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: This gray seal pup born on Thursday, January 9, A.D. 2020 is one of two gray seal pups born at Brookfield Zoo.  At birth, gray seal pups have white fur called lanugo (pronounced “la-noo-go), which molts in two-to-four weeks and gets replaced by short, stiff hair that is similar to adult hair.

Figure 3 Credit: Jim Schulz, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: This two-week-old gray seal pup is one of two born at the Brookfield Zoo in January.  Both are staying behind the scenes whilst they bond with their mothers.

Figure 4 Credit: Jim Schulz, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: This female gray seal pup (on the right) was born on Thursday, January 9, A.D. 2020 is bonding with her mother, Lily (on the left).  Both pups born at the Brookfield Zoo in January are bonding with their mothers behind the scenes and are expected to debt in Pinniped Point in the spring. 

Figure 5 Credit: Jim Schulz, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: A gray seal pup born at Brookfield Zoo on Friday, January 10, A.D. 2020 is currently bonding with her mother, Tasha, behind the scenes.  This newborn, along with another female pup born on January 9th, will make their debut at Pinniped Point in the spring.

Figure 6 Credit: Jim Schulz, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: A four-day-old female gray seal pup bonds with her mother, Tasha.  Currently, the two are behind the scenes bonding.  This pup, born on January 10th, along a half-sister born on January 9th, will make their public debit at Brookfield Zoo’s Pinniped Point this spring.

Figure 7 Credit: Jim Schulz, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: A twelve-day-old gray seal pup born on Friday, January 10, A.D. 2020, is practicing swimming skills behind the scenes at Brookfield Zoo under the eye of her mother, Tasha.  This modified pool is shallow, which according to the Chicago Zoological Society “allows the pup to practice navigating in her aquatic environment with easy access out.”

Credit: Brookfield Zoo Caption: Before the newborn seal pups at Brookfield Zoo brave the big pool, they get accustomed to coal water by playing with tubs of ice water.  Tasha’s pup, born on Friday, January 10, A.D. 2020, enjoyed splashing around and blowing bubbles, as seen here.

The Chicago Zoological Society operates the Brookfield Zoo on property that belongs to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.  The North Gate Main Entrance address is 8400 West 31st Street, Brookfield, Illinois 60513.  The South Gate Main Entrance address is 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, Illinois 60513.  The Hollywood (Zoo Stop) on Metra’s B.N.S.F. line is a few blocks to the south of the South Gate entrance.  The Website is www.czs.org/Brookfield-ZOO/Home.

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