Female Baby Sea Lion Born

(Pittsburgh) (June 2012)—It’s a girl! Sea lion mom Zoey gives birth to her second pup at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

 “We are all very excited,” says Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “Zoey and her pup are vocalizing and the pup is nursing, which is a very important part of the pup’s development.”

The mortality rate for a sea lion pup is 10 to 15 percent during the first month and is strongly dependent on the formation of a bond between pup and mom. These bonds are built through vocalization and nursing. “Zoey is a great mom and she is very attentive to her new pup,” says Dr. Baker.  

The new baby is the second pup for Zoey, who is also mother to 3-year-old Sidney. “At first Zoey was very protective of the baby,” says Henry Kacprzyk, curator of Kids Kingdom and reptiles. “But after a couple of days, Zoey relaxed enough to let the other sea lion members near the pup.  Especially curious were Sidney and Sophie, another young sea lion, who kept trying to get close to the pup and were chased away by mom.”

Keepers were able to weigh the new pup and found that she is  18.4 pounds, which is a healthy weight for a newborn sea lion. “As long as the baby is continuing to nurse and vocalize with mom, we won’t interfere,” says Mr. Kacprzyk.

 In the coming weeks, the pup will learn to swim. “Pups instinctively know to start paddling in the water, but being young, they tire easily and need mom to help out,” says Mr. Kacrpzyk. “Zoey is always right there with the pup and helps if needed. We also put little steps in the pool that the pup can use to get out of the water.”

The little pup taking the plunge isn’t the only thing keeping staff on their toes. They are anxiously waiting the birth of sea lion Maggie’s second pup, due any day now.

Mating season for sea lions is primarily in  June and July and gestation is  8 months, but sea lions have delayed implantation of an additional two to three months, so pups are born in the summer when food is more plentiful.  Delayed implantation is when the embryo remains in a state of dormancy before it begins to develop.  Sea lions normally give birth to one pup, but on rare occasions, twins have been born.

 Sea lion pups have dark brown to black colorations when they are born, but their color will fade to light brown within their first few weeks.  They are well developed at birth, opening their eyes and vocalizing to their mother.  Within a half hour of birth they are able to shake, groom, scratch, and walk. Swimming comes later when the pup is older.  A female sea lion is very protective of her pup and she may be aggressive toward the other sea lions and keepers, warning them to stay away.