A seal swap could increase the population of harbor seals at aquariums in Tacoma and Seattle.
On Thursday, a seal named Q – a 13-year-old male from the Seattle Aquarium – arrived at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Biologists hope he’ll mate with two Tacoma female seals, Shila and Qilak.
In exchange, 7-year-old Siku – a female from T-town – will head to the Emerald City in the hopes she will mate with 27-year-old Barney.
Neither of the males has fathered any pups.
Zoo and aquarium officials hope to diversify the gene pool and boost the population of harbor seals in captivity. Currently, about 200 harbor seals live in about 50 zoos and aquariums.
They are the most abundant marine mammal in Puget Sound, with between 1,000 and 2,000 living in Southern Puget Sound, according to information from Point Defiance.
Harbor seals are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
“Our goal is to increase the population and diversity of harbor seals in zoos and aquariums without having to affect the wild population,” said Amanda Shaffer, the lead zoo keeper for the harbor seals at Point Defiance. She has a special bond with Q. She worked with him at the Seattle Aquarium.
After arriving at Point Defiance Thursday, Q dove in for a swim around his pool. His new harem was curious. He retreated to an underwater cave-like area at one edge of the pool, then emerged about 20 minutes later, played with one of the females and snacked on fish treats.
He could mate with both of Tacoma’s breeding-age females. They’re not monogamous.
Breeding season for harbor seals is spring and summer. If the seals click reproductively, it could take up to a year before pups are born. Gestation periods range from nine to 11 months, with only one pup born each year.
Debbie Cafazzo: firstname.lastname@example.org