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Celebrating Ellie the Harbor Seal’s 20th Birthday

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10 Year Anniversary Stories | Volunteering | Mammals

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hugh

On May 16th 1989 a female harbor seal was born in Brooklyn. She was named Elga in honor of a local philanthropist. In 1998 Elga found her way to California where she helped open the new Aquarium of the Pacific as one of the main attractions in the Southern California Baja Gallery. At the Long Beach-based Aquarium, the seal’s East Coast sounding Elga became the more SoCal sounding Ellie.

When the Aquarium opened in June of 1998, Ellie was the largest harbor seal in the exhibit. She was also the most easy going of the Aquarium’s seals and sea lions back then. Many a volunteer’s first experience feeding a pinniped involved Ellie. She was and still is very proper and gentle when receiving the herring, capelin and squid from the folks feeding her. You could be assured that if you started with ten fingers at the beginning of the feed that you would have the same amount at the end of the session.

Ellie is also a very forgiving animal when it comes to her human co-workers. During the first month that the Aquarium was opened to the public a marine mammal volunteer accidentally fell into the water almost on her. In this short anecdote told over the years, the volunteer found a slick spot on a rock while feeding her and slowly started sliding toward her. He was helpless to stop as the algae on the rock had the slickness of ice. Back then Ellie could see quite well so she had a front row seat to the plight of the volunteer. As the volunteer slid closer and closer to her, Ellie’s eyes seemed to get wider and wider. Just before the volunteer hit the water, Ellie decided to bug out just in time as with a big splash the volunteer fell in, boots, buckets and all, right in the spot she had just vacated.

Well, Ellie would eventually forgive the volunteer that gave her such a scare, becoming over the past decade the volunteer’s favorite seal.

On Saturday, May 16, 2009. that same volunteer brought a salmon and a birthday cake to the Aquarium to celebrate Ellie’s 20th birthday. It was the least I could do for an animal that’s given me so much joy over the years. Yes, I am the volunteer that once nearly fell on top of her.

In an informal little morning celebration, Ellie was given a nine and a half pound salmon to munch on. Although she is very dainty while eating her capelin and herring, when it comes to salmon she’s more lion-like than the sea lions. She hauled the big fish into the water and let be known to the much bigger sea lions that this was HER salmon!

It was the ultimate enrichment session for the seal from Brooklyn as she would bring the salmon to the surface, tear off a piece to munch on while letting the rest of it float to the bottom of the exhibit, dive down to pick it up again and then repeated the process. Although the sea lions were curious, they were smart enough to know not to mess with Ellie’s birthday present. I think Ellie has a lot of fun with the salmon.

Happy Birthday Ellie!

Celebrating Ellie the Harbor Seal’s 20th Birthday
Marine mammal volunteer Linda holds a birthday cake as Ellie swims by.  | Hugh Ryono
Celebrating Ellie the Harbor Seal’s 20th Birthday
Me with Ellie's nine and a half pound salmon just before it was brought out to her.
Celebrating Ellie the Harbor Seal’s 20th Birthday
Ellie the harbor seal enjoys her salmon while Harpo the sea lion looks on.  | Hugh Ryono

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Nora H.

Saturday, June 13, 2009 07:50 PM

That was a great story; I have tears in my eyes!~! or is it PMS!
Oh well, I’m from Brooklyn, maybe that’s it?!
Great sharing!  Nora

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Lorena

Wednesday, April 07, 2010 02:04 PM

hello,
thanks for sharing this awesome story!
i cant wait until i go to UCSan Diego and study marine life!

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lesly

Sunday, April 11, 2010 11:59 AM

i am doing a report on seals, and was wondering if i could e-mail someone that works in the zoo for information on seals.Thank-you for your generosity and I am looking forward to your response

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betsy

Saturday, June 19, 2010 11:34 PM

i cant believe Ellie is blind i feel so sorry for her. she is very beautiful like troy and shelby.
when i went there i saw her i was trying to see what she would do but i never knew that she was blind.she must be pretty clever. i hope she is doing great. i can’t believe she can actually use her use and her whiskers to know where to go. i didn’t know she had very excellent hearing.

All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.

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