May 31, 2012 | Volume 42, No.22

Ophan seal gains weight, swims in Seward

A newborn harbor seal pup found in Haines May 2 has gained more than eight pounds and appears on track for release into the wild here later this year.

The female seal named Olympia was born prematurely and is rehabilitating at Seward’s Sea Life Center.

“It is likely that Olympia was abandoned by her mother, as we commonly find that seals abandon their premature pups,” said Tim Lebling, Sea Life Center stranding coordinator.

“Olympia now is strong, healthy, feisty, so she is in an isolated area where she will be with the other seals that come in, but she won’t be interacting directly with humans,” said Laurie Morrow, the center’s senior education manager.

“There are some pipes that go into the tanks, and they shoot those live fish down through the pipes and they end up in her tank with her, and then we watch to see if she’s learning how to catch them.”

She said Olympia still is on a “puppy formula.” There are live fish in the seal’s tank, Morrow said, “but she hasn’t really figured out what to do with them yet.”

Last week, Olympia weighed 9.8 kilograms (21.6 pounds) and was in stable condition. She was admitted at 6.1 kilograms (about 13 pounds).

Morrow said seals often are released in August and September, about the time they would start to separate from their mother under a natural development pattern. “They usually stay here for about three months, so she’ll be here for quite a while before they make exact plans on that,” she said.

Morrow said she wasn’t sure where Olympia would be released. “To the best of my knowledge, they try to release them where they were found or where they belong.” If Olympia returns to Haines, the center would do outreach to publicize the event, she said, and possibly schedule educational activities for students.

The Sea Life Center is posting updates on Olympia, the facility’s first 2012 stranded harbor seal, at www.alaskasealife.org.

The site says Olympia is being tube-fed to avoid imprinting onto humans, and the pup’s first supervised swim time was May 6. “Although harbor seal pups can swim when they are born, she is not yet able to regulate her body temperature. Her swims will be kept short and in a warmed salt water.”

Olympia lost her white lanugo coat – a thick, shedding fur that indicates a premature birth – as of May 9, and has the spotted coat of a harbor seal.

The May 17 update said “Olympia continues to grow stronger every day, and has proven to be quite the feisty little pup.”

Tracy Mikowski of the Haines Animal Rescue Kennel spotted the seal in beach grass along Chilkat Inlet on May 2 and determined “it wasn’t going to survive by itself.” Olympia then was transported to Seward for assistance.

The Olympia name is in line with the center’s 2012 Olympics theme. ConocoPhillips Alaska recently donated $100,000 to the stranding program and was selected to name the pup. The son of a ConocoPhillips employee submitted the winning name.