Seal of Dane County County of Dane
County Executive's Office

Henry Vilas Zoo Welcomes National Record-Setting Addition to Seal Family

June 07, 2012
Casey Slaughter Becker, Office of the County Executive 608.267.8823 or cell, 608.843.8858
County Executive

Baby Seal Born to Oldest Parents in North American Zoos


Henry Vilas Zoo’s newest addition to its harbor seal family is one for the record books, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today. 


A female harbor seal was born to 42 year old parents Betty and Blacky last month and they are now the oldest harbor seal parents on record in the Association of Zoos and Aquaria (AZA).


“The longevity and health of our harbor seals, and the arrival of our record breaking seal pup, are testaments to our world class zoo and staff,” said Parisi.  “I encourage everyone to come welcome the newest member of our zoo family in the days and weeks ahead.” 


The County Executive added that people should watch www.vilaszoo.organd the zoo’s Facebook page for details on an upcoming naming contest for the new seal pup.  The new seal pup will be on display for limited periods during the day as baby gains strength, and continues to get swimming lessons from its mom.  


The birth announcement was delayed as zookeepers worked tirelessly with mom and baby to ensure the new addition’s survival.  Betty has been very attentive to her pup from the beginning, but was having trouble producing milk. Zoo animal and veterinarian staff stepped in to help assist in rearing the pup by tube feeding her every 4 hours during her first two weeks of life.


“It takes a lot of time and dedication to care for our animals at Henry Vilas Zoo, especially in critical care cases such as the seal pup,” said Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz.  “During this time we watched development of the pup seven days a week from sun up to sun down.  We take pride in our work and our ability to care for the diverse species that call our zoo home.” 


After feeding and weighing the pup several times a day to make sure she was healthy and developing properly, zoo staff would return the pup to her mother to help with bonding – an instinct that’s crucial to survival in the wild.  Because the mother must leave the pup on land when she goes to hunt for food, bonding helps the mother find the right baby when she returns from hunting to nurse.


Generally seal pups are very precocious and are weaned in 4 – 6 weeks. The zoo’s pup has been developing right on track and is getting stronger each day.  Zoo staff consulted with the Harbor Seal Species Survival Plan (SSP) expert and other seal experts across the country to ensure the steps they were taking would bolster the health of the pup. 


Emergency care for the new seal pup was made possible in part through the zoo’s Animal Welfare Fund.  To make a donation to the Henry Vilas Zoo Animal Welfare Fund, please go to www.vilaszoo.organd note your donation to the Animal Welfare Fund. All donations go towards providing the best possible care to the Zoo’s animals, including new zoo babies.


“Our free zoo benefits greatly from the tremendous support its gets from the community,” said Supervisor Chuck Erikson, who’s district includes the Henry Vilas Zoo.  “These partnerships help keep our animals healthy and keep our zoo a great destination for all visitors.”

Visitors can see all of the county’s zoo family every day from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Zoo admission and parking are always free to the public.   


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