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Alaska SeaLife Center on Alert for Special Delivery


Seward, AK – May 1. 2010 – Like first-time parents approaching the ninth month of pregnancy, scientists at the AlaskaSeaLifeCenter are watching one of their sea lions with growing anticipation and just a bit of anxiety. Within the next four to six weeks, they expect Kiska, one of two captive female sea lions at the Center, to deliver the first Steller pup ever born at the marine research facility in Seward.

Last summer, scientists launched attempts to breed the Stellers by housing the two female sea lions, Kiska and Sugar, with Woody, the Center’s iconic, 2,000-pound male. Despite weeks of direct observations and video surveillance, scientists never saw the animals copulating, but Woody and Kiska found a way to conceive beyond prying eyes.  An ultrasound examination confirmed the pregnancy in December, and subsequent imaging has shown a normally developing fetus with a healthy heart rate.

“If all goes well, we expect the pup to be born sometime between mid-May and early July—about the same time frame in which wild Stellers have their pups,” said Lori Polasek, a marine mammal scientist at the Alaska SeaLife Center. “There is limited information on captive, pregnant Steller sea lions so we can’t predict the date of birth, but we’ll be ready.”

AlaskaSeaLifeCenter educators and researchers have created a “Pup Tales” page on the facility’s website (www.alaskasealife.org), where they will post updates, photos, and information about the pup and its parents. The ASLC also kicked off a naming contest which anyone can enter in return for a small donation for the care and feeding of the sea lions, and an anonymous donor has offered to give five dollars for each name submitted (up to the first 200 entries). 

As the prospective birth date draws closer, staff members are using remote video cameras to monitor Kiska in her habitat and behind-the-scenes holding pools. As of May 15th staff and volunteers will take overnight ‘pup watch’ shifts to observe Kiska closely for signs of labor.

Stellers typically mate in June, when males and females are together on rookeries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Fertilized eggs begin actively developing in the fall and pups are born nine months later.

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.

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The AlaskaSeaLifeCenter is a non-profit marine research, wildlife rehabilitation, and public education facility that generates and shares scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems.

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