Seal Pup Frequently Asked Questions

When will the seal pup be on exhibit / Why aren’t the mother and pup on exhibit?
Mom and pup will be off exhibit for the first few months of the pup’s life, as the two bond and the pup grows and learns. The female needs to be separated from the other seals prior to birth. She’s in a quiet, isolated area off-exhibit to afford her the opportunity to successfully bond with her pup, and nurse it for approximately 4 weeks. When the pup is weaned at 4 weeks of age, Rona will likely rejoin Boone, the pup’s father.

It will be some time before the pup will be out on exhibit. Once the pup is weaned and independent, the pup will begin to learn to eat fish, become a confident swimmer, and develop relationships with the staff. Since the pup will have quadrupled its weight in 4 weeks, it will take a little bit of time (and weight loss) for the pup to get hungry enough to begin to eat fish. We will also need to be very careful as we begin to introduce the pup to the other pinnipeds. During the breeding season, large male grey seals have been known to injure pups while they look for females. Quick and agile sea lions could cause nervousness and anxiety, so the introductions will take some time. And when we choose to introduce the pup to the exhibit pool, it will have had to develop a close relationship with the staff so the pup is not overwhelmed with its first look at the outside world and a much larger exhibit.

What are you naming the seal pup? Will you have a naming contest?
We will be announcing a naming event sometime in the next few weeks. Stay tuned and watch social media or visit LouisivlleZoo.org/sealpup to learn how you can vote for your favorite.

Is the pup a male or a female?

The pup had its first neonatal exam on January 28, 2021, and that revealed it is a boy and at the time weighed 146. An exam was performed after he was weaned, so as not to disturb the bonding process with mom, Rona.

How is Rona doing?
Rona is recovering from giving birth and is showing good maternal behaviors as she and her pup continue to bond behind the scenes. Rona continues to be a great mother, allowing the pup to nurse often, and she is very protective of the pup.  Rona is now eating approximately 10 lbs. of fish a day.

Did the pup nurse right away?
The pup was able to nurse 4 1/2 hours after birth, and Rona is showing good maternal behaviors.

How long will the pup nurse?
The gray seal nursing period is the shortest among land-breeding phocids: 16 to 21 days, so gray seals generally nurse for about 3 1/2 to 4 weeks. Rona has built up large fat stores for the nursing process, as gray seals produce very fatty milk.  The milk composition is 52.2% fat, 46.4 % water, 6.8% protein.  Mom transfers approximately 17,000 kcal/day (about 3 L) and the pup assimilates 14,000 kcals/day. The mother expends about 15 times the calories needed by a human (2,000) to maintain body weight. That’s equivalent to over 12 gallons of ice cream per day for the seal!

What does the pup weigh?
The pup had its first neonatal exam on January 28, 2021, and weighed 146. He was not weighed until he was weaned, so as not to disturb the bonding process with mom, Rona. Pups generally weigh 30 – 35 lbs at birth. Mothers will invest 10% more energy in nursing and raising a male pup than a female due to the males being larger.

Why is the pup white and fluffy and Rona is gray and smooth?
Seal pups are born with white fur called “lanugo” that helps them absorb sunlight and stay warm. The lanugo is molted over the four weeks of nursing so at the time of weaning they have adult coloration.

When was the pup born and what did it weigh?
The pup was born at 7:25 am on December 28, 2020. The pup had its first neonatal exam on January 28, 2021, and weighed 146. He was not weighed until he was weaned, so as not to disturb the bonding process with mom, Rona. Pups generally weigh 30 – 35 lbs at birth. Mothers will invest 10% more energy in nursing and raising a male pup than a female due to the males being larger.

Did the pup nurse right away?
The pup was able to nurse 4 1/2 hours after birth, and Rona is showing good maternal behaviors.

How long will the pup nurse?
The gray seal nursing period is the shortest among land-breeding phocids: 16 to 21 days, so gray seals generally nurse for about 3 1/2 to 4 weeks. Rona has built up large fat stores for the nursing process, as gray seals produce very fatty milk.  The milk composition is 52.2% fat, 46.4 % water, 6.8% protein.  Mom transfers approximately 17,000 kcal/day (about 3 L) and the pup assimilates 14,000 kcals/day. The mother expends about 15 times the calories needed by a human (2,000) to maintain body weight. That’s equivalent to over 12 gallons of ice cream per day for the seal!

The Louisville Zoo has a history of seal births dating back to the 70s, so this birth is a continuation of this important work. The pup was born as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) for gray seals. This plan ensures that managed populations of gray seals in AZA zoos are genetically diverse and healthy.

Who is the pup’s father?
The father of Rona’s pup is Boone, a gray seal born in 2004. One set of Boone’s grandparents were Snoopy and Lucy, the first two seals to arrive at the Louisville Zoo in 1969.