Blind seal gives birth and nurtures the pup at an Illinois zoo

Blind seal gives birth and nurtures the pup at an Illinois zoo
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BROOKFIELD, Ill. — A gray seal found blind and stranded on a Maine island more than a decade ago has given birth at a Chicago-area zoo and is now “a very attentive mother” to her newborn, zoo officials said Friday.

The 11-year-old seal named “Georgie” gave birth to a male pup weighing almost 35 pounds (15.9 kilograms) on February 17 at the Brookfield Zoo. He gained 15 pounds in his first week thanks to his mother’s extremely rich milk and has been practicing his swimming skills in a pool, zoo officials said.

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After Georgie became stranded on an island in Georgetown, Maine, near the Atlantic Ocean, in 2013, she was diagnosed as blind in her left eye and functionally blind in her right eye.

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Due to her impaired eyesight, National Marine Fisheries Service authorities determined she could not be released back into the wild. She arrived in 2020 at the Brookfield Zoo, west of downtown Chicago.

But Georgie’s vision loss hasn’t affected her ability to care for her newborn; she is caring for the pup and has proven to be “a very attentive mother,” said Mark Gonka, the zoo’s deputy director for marine mammal care and conservation.

“Gray seals have a keen sense of smell and a repertoire of vocalizations. Georgie can locate her puppy by its distinct scent and call,” Gonka said in a statement.

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Like Georgie, the pup’s father, a 23-year-old gray seal named Kiinaq, also became stranded in the wild and was considered rescued when he was just a few months old.

The Brookfield Zoo said the birth of the newborn pup to two parents of wild ancestry helps increase the genetic diversity of the gray seal population in accredited North American zoos and aquariums.

Gray seals face threats such as entanglement in fishing gear, illegal hunting, chemical contaminants and climate change, the zoo said.

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