Animals come and go at the Alaska Zoo, but one thing is always constant - spring and early summer are dynamic seasons of change. The zoo takes in animals who need care through wildlife agencies, in the case of orphaned or injured animals. Some animals arrive from other zoos, not as frequent of an occurrence and always pre-arranged. And occasionally we are lucky enough to see animals born at the zoo, a truly awesome experience for zoo staff and volunteers.
In my two decades at the zoo, I have witnessed all of the above. I have so many fond memories of helping to care for animals and of teaching people about them. I remember being involved in hand raising countless young animals, a rewarding experience for sure. But even more rewarding is watching nature take its course with a mother who gives birth to her baby at the zoo, then provides care herself.
The zoo has two adult harbor seals, Chloe and Onyx. Chloe reared a pup successfully before, so zoo staff was excited to see her growing belly this spring and the realization that she would pup again this year. And she did just that late in the evening on Wednesday June 12th, 2019.
When I first heard the news, I was thrilled. The pup was born safely and Chloe was doing fine. So I went straight to the zoo to see how things were going for myself. There are so many familiar sights and sounds as I walk up to the gate. The steps leading down to admissions, the clank of the gate opening, the sound of crunching gravel under my feet, the jingle of keys as I walk with a co-worker. But as we walk up to the viewing window, we see a new site. A new pup with Chloe, who was protectively keeping the male Onyx at bay. She was focused on one thing at that moment, her new pup and her desire to teach the pup to nurse.
It appeared to me that she viewed Onyx as a distraction, so she let him know as much and he obeyed by returning to swim around in the pool. With Onyx in the pool, Chloe moved toward the pup who was lounging sideways on land and surveying the new surroundings. Chloe was looking around at staff who were present with her attention always returning to the pup. Then, in one small motion, the pup slid into the shallow water and lolled around back and forth, trying out swimming for the first time. She stayed nearby and gently prodded the pup to return to land in the hopes of nursing. She and the pup repeated these motions for a short while, with all staff present entrance in the moment. Chloe was doing all of the right things and this pup had no worries in the word.
And then finally, after time had passed, the pup went to her to nurse. As staff left for the day, they had the comfort of knowing that Chloe had it under control. She and her pup spent their first night with Onyx under the midnight sun and a sky that never grew dark. Staff, volunteers and visitors would arrive the next day and fall in love with this new arrival, but that first night was all theirs to enjoy in the peace and silence of the Alaska Zoo’s wooded grounds. These are moments that none of us ever forget and, no matter how many years go by, each of these moments is as special as the one before.
Written by Katie Larson, former Alaska Zoo Education Director and current graphics/webmaster.
To learn more about harbor seals, visit our Animal Information Pages or check out the species profile by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.