By Carley Dangona
BOSTON – A brand new baby seal is capturing the hearts of patrons at the New England Aquarium (NEA).
Kitovi “Kit” joined the NEA family on Aug. 6. Her mother Ursula, father Isaac, brother Flaherty, born July 10, 2012, and grandmother Roxie reside with her and other Northern fur seals at the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center.
She is named after Kitovi, a rookery – an area where fur seals gather to breed and give birth – in the Pribilof Islands, which are located in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia.
“It’s extremely exciting for the staff [to have a new baby seal],” Kathy Streeter, curator of Marine Mammals at NEA, said. “The Northern fur seal pups are so unbelievably adorable.” She added that the event is somewhat stressful because there’s never a guarantee that a pup will survive because they are extremely “small and fragile” at birth and complications can arise.
Northern fur seals, Callorhinus ursinus, are part of the otariidae family that includes all “eared” seals. The seals can walk on their flippers like limbs, unlike other species, which have to slide on their bellies. They have two coats of fur, with 300,000 hairs per square inch. The fur seals’ diet consists mainly of fish including squid, capelin and herring, which NEA feeds their seals.
The seals spend the majority of their time in the water, but rest and breed on land or ice. In addition to the Pribilofs, Northern fur seals are commonly found on Bogoslof and San Miguel Island in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, and off the coasts of Alaska, Russia and Japan.
Kit was born at nine pounds and is currently weighs 21 pounds. According to Streeter, female Northern fur seals generally grow to about 80 pounds. In contrast, Isaac’s weight ranges between 400 to 500 or more pounds.
“It’s a unique experience. There are very few places in the United States to see fur seals, which occupy a small niche in this world. It’s a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of. It helps people develop an empathy with different species and to identify with them in ways they didn’t before,” Streeter commented.
She noted that the Northern fur seal is considered a “vulnerable” species due to a variety of factors such as the former practice of hunting the seals and numerous environmental issues. Overall, the population isn’t increasing, as it should be.
Kit recently ventured into the main exhibit pool of the aquarium. Streeter explained that the animals are not allowed entry into that area until they can safely jump a foot out of the water due to the height of the exhibit. She said that pups learn to swim at about 1 month old.
She said that Kit took an “experimental” approach to learning to swim whereas her brother Flaherty was very “methodical.” To simulate the beds of sea kelp that the seals would rest upon in the wild, the aquarium uses car wash cleaning strips. Streeter described Kit as “spunky” and said she had no trouble adjusting to the environment.
Streeter explained that like people, each seal has its own personality, which is evident within the first week of birth. That fact helps trainers adjust facilitated play teaching tasks to best accommodate the seals. Some seals enjoy a back scratch while others are happier waving their flippers, so the programs are tailored to each seal’s needs. “It all starts with the development of a relationship of trust with the animals and trainers,” Streeter said.
NEA features many exhibits include numerous penguin species, a giant ocean tank that serves as the centerpiece of the building, a touch tank where guests can pet sharks and rays, an IMAX theatre and much more.
To watch Kit grow, visit the trainer’s blog at http://trainers.neaq.org
. For more information about NEA, log on to www.neaq.org