Another captive Steller sea Lion pup was born to 14-year old Eden and iconic male sea lion attraction, Woody at the Alaska SeaLife Center Sunday, July 20th, shortly after noon. He and his mother are doing well. The pup has been successfully nursing, and Eden has been a very attentive mother, according to a press release issued by the center Monday. The pup’s first weight was 37.7 pounds. The staff learned his sex at that time. The birth was much quicker than staff had expected, taking only minutes this time, said Tara Reimer ASLC’s CEO and president. In fact, some staff who were alerted that Eden was in labor and rushed to the center to witness the birth, missed it.
Last year, Eden gave birth to her first pup, also sired by Woody. Eleanor, or “Ellie,” was born June 20th of last year. At 13-months, she now weighs 166 pounds and has learned to eat fish and follow the basic commands of her trainers. Ellie was the first Steller sea lion pup born in captivity in North American collections since the mid-’80s, so her birth was widely noted in the media and in scientific circles.
Both pups are part of a study overseen by Dr. Lori Polasek, a marine mammal scientist at ASLC, and UAF research assistant professor, focused on maternal care.
The ongoing Alaska-based research project, already underway for the past three or four years in collaboration with aquaria in Vancouver, Canada, Connecticut and the Netherlands, is to study the maternal “investment” that female Steller sea lions have in their pups in terms of energy and their nutritional needs. It’s hoped that breeding pups in captivity, along with other types of research with moms and pups in the wild, will help bolster researcher’s understanding of what’s happening to Steller sea lions in the wild, helping to provide possible explanations for their decline, and why fewer young are surviving to adulthood.
“The Steller sea lions at the center play an important role in our understanding of wild sea lions. We are learning about hormone cycles, pregnancy detection and pup care” Polasek said. “This study has application for population recovery by determining pregnancy rates and pupping success in wild animals.”
After a year, Ellie’s usefulness for the research project, is coming to an end. It remains to be seen whether she stays in Seward, or is sent to another aquarium for the long-term, Riemer said. Meanwhile the new pup will be nursing and developing at ASLC, and will remain there for at least a year. She won’t be on public display for another couple of months, though.
Woody also mated with Tasu for a second attempt at a pregnancy this year. Last year she had a pup that was stillborn. Center personnel aren’t sure whether a pregnancy resulted this time around, and won’t actually know whether she’s pregnant until January.
“It’s not easy to tell. We usually wait until we see a beating heart,” Riemer said. Another pup was lost a couple of years ago when the female sea lion Kiska died near childbirth. In the Eastern stock, up to 15 percent of pups born in the wild do not make it to their first week, Polasek noted earlier. Part of the research study’s goal is actually to gain a better understanding of the sea lion’s gestation process.
Under the project’s permit, the maximum number of births allowed at the center is three female sea lions, each having three pups. “We would like more than one female giving birth at least a couple of times,” the CEO said.
The center staff and volunteers are also caring for 13 stranded seal pups, including a dozen harbor seals and a spotted seal pup rescued early in the season. The number of seal pups is higher to date than ASLC received last summer, but not much higher than the average, which is around a dozen, but can fluctuate from year to year, Riemer said.