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IT’S A GIRL!  Newborn Harbor Seal Pup

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Volunteering

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Shelby the harbor seal gives birth

When I first started as a marine mammal volunteer at the Aquarium a few weeks before its grand opening in 1998, a young female harbor seal named Shelby was one of the first animals I was introduced to. I had the joy of spending the next fourteen years watching her grow up to become a beautiful adult seal. A couple of weeks ago, just a few days after her sweet sixteen birthday, Shelby the harbor seal gave birth to a bouncing baby seal!

During those fourteen years of working together Shelby and I built a wonderful, trusting relationship. That trust helped me to train the once “Nervous Nellie” of the exhibit to become the most huggable seal in Long Beach. When senior mammalogist Michele asked if I would help train Shelby to do encounters a few years ago I decided to teach the seal to sit on her seat and to accept heartfelt hugs from different people. It was a tactile behavior that was a small part of Shelby’s training to become one our our trained pinnipeds during animal encounters. Many a willing volunteer, paid staffer, and intern “Seal-Huggers” have had their hug-a-seal moment with Shelby while this behavior was being trained. This physical contact helped make the moment of her giving birth so special to many people at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

The father of the pup is Troy, a critter half of Shelby’s age. Of course that fact led to the comment that Shelby wasn’t really a seal at all but was in reality a “Cougar”. Staffers that know both Troy and Shelby noticed that the pup has Troy’s forehead and Shelby’s markings.

The pup was born while I was in Chicago on a business trip. Fortunately I was due to fly back very early the next morning. I drove directly from the airport to the Aquarium. The joy that I felt when I first saw Shelby and her newborn pup was indescribable. The photos that you see of mom and pup with this blog are from that day, less than 24 hours after the pup was born.

Below is a short video that I took during one of my pup watching shifts of Shelby nursing her pup.

Background on the video: Shelby and the pup were sleeping. You can hear someone singing Over The Rainbow in the background. I’m not sure where that song was coming from. It was possibly part of one of the kid programs that was going on that Saturday morning at the Aquarium. The song seemed like a lullaby that helped put them both to sleep.

Later Shelby wakes up and decides it’s time to nurse.

In my mind the scenario played out in an anthropomorphic manner like the following:


  • Soft Motherly Voice: Dear it’s time to eat….(Pup still sleeping)
  • Little Louder Motherly Voice: Honey (Nudge) It’s time to wake up…(Pup still sleeping)
  • Real Loud Mother’s Tough Love Voice: WAKE UP! (Flipper poke)


  • MOM!..QUIT IT!…(Pup wakes and pokes back)… I’M AWAKE!…

Shelby nursed the pup soon after.

IT’S A GIRL!  Newborn Harbor Seal Pup
The newborn pup looks up at her mom.  | Hugh Ryono
IT’S A GIRL!  Newborn Harbor Seal Pup
Lunch Time! Shelby nurses her pup.  | Hugh Ryono
IT’S A GIRL!  Newborn Harbor Seal Pup
Staffers that know Troy and Shelby noticed that the pup had Troy's forehead and Shelby's markings.  | Hugh Ryono
IT’S A GIRL!  Newborn Harbor Seal Pup
In this shot from a couple of years ago, my wife Pam helps train Shelby's Hug-a-Seal behavior by being a designated seal hugger.  | Hugh Ryono

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