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Great Expectations: Sea Lion Pregnancy Confirmed at Alaska SeaLife Center


Seward, AK – February 15, 2010 – AlaskaSeaLifeCenter scientists recently announced that they have reached a major milestone in their efforts to learn more about Steller sea lion reproduction:

Kiska is pregnant! 

Last summer, breeding was made possible by housing Kiska and Sugar, the Center’s two female sea lions, in the same habitat with the iconic, 2,000-pound male, Woody. The three sea lions had shared the pool for brief periods in the past, but this was the SeaLifeCenter’s first attempt to breed the endangered Stellers in captivity.  An ultrasound examination confirmed the pregnancy, and scientists were thrilled to see a normally developing fetus with a healthy heart rate.

By collecting data from Kiska as her pup develops, researchers hope to determine the nutritional demands placed on Steller females as they carry, deliver, and nurse their pups.  The studies will complement research completed over the past 16 years, including the ChiswellIsland video monitoring project that has closely followed reproduction of wild Steller sea lions on an island 35 miles south of Seward.

“If all goes well, we expect the pup to be born this summer, and we anticipate breeding the sea lions again in 2010,” said Lori Polasek, a marine mammal scientist at the AlaskaSeaLifeCenter.  “Because wild Steller sea lions often mate within two weeks of giving birth, females are pregnant and lactating the majority of their lives. If we want to understand the population, it’s important to study energy demands on a female that is pregnant and supporting a nursing pup at the same time.

Stellers typically mate in June when males and females are hauled out together on rookeries. Fertilized eggs do not begin developing until the fall and pups are born nine months later. “There is limited information on captive pregnant Steller sea lions so we can’t predict the date of birth, but we are monitoring the pregnancy via ultrasound.” said Brett Long, the ASLC’s husbandry director.


Research studies associated with the captive breeding efforts will focus on five major objectives:

1.  Determining if reproductive status, success, and rates are limiting Steller sea lion population recovery;

2.  Developing improved, non-invasive sampling techniques;

3.  Determining energetic costs of pregnancy and maternal investment after giving birth (i.e., how much time the mother spending nursing and caring for her pup);

4.  Validating the use of chemical analyses that estimate the mother sea lion’s diet by collecting samples of her milk from nursing pups (“Quantitative Fatty Acid Signature Analysis”);

5.  Using captive Steller sea lions to develop and validate new methods of monitoring Stellers and related species in the wild.

The Steller sea lion breeding project includes collaborators from the AlaskaSeaLifeCenter, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of British Columbia, DalhousieUniversity, the University of Saskatchewan, and Mote Marine Laboratory.  Research described is conducted under NMFS Permit No. 14334.

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The AlaskaSeaLifeCenter is a non-profit marine science facility dedicated to understanding and maintaining the integrity of the marine ecosystem of Alaska. We achieve our mission through research, rehabilitation, conservation, and public education.

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