Two Harbor seal pups, Tiny and Tim, have a new permanent home at the Gladys Porter Zoo.
The 10-month-old seals were released into their enclosure Thursday morning as spectators and staff watched.
Tiny, the smaller seal with a dusting of spots on his head, took timid movements into the enclosure, finally sliding into the water.
Tim followed and soon the two swam and explored the crevices of the 39,000 gallons of water that filled their pool. The water is kept cool, at 70 degrees, to feel like a natural home for the playful pups, said Jerry Stones, facilities director for the zoo. Their exhibit is located next to the amphitheater.
The two were found off the coast of California, born to separate mothers, and are the most common seal in the world, he said.
“They’re found from the northeast all the way down to Georgia. You can find them all the way down the west coast to Baja California,” Stones said.
Both individuals were found with their umbilical cords still attached, Stones said.
“They’re just babies,” Stones said. “They were born in February. They were stranded and were picked up off the beach. They had never been in the water when they were picked up.”
The baby seals can grow up to weigh 600 pounds, Stones said, and they usually spend only two to three weeks after birth being cared for by their mothers.
It’s unclear why these two pups were left to fend for themselves, Stones said, but there are a few possible explanations.
“What happened to the mothers, we have no idea,” Stones said, “but maybe she didn’t come back because she was eaten by a shark or eaten by a killer whale or just said I’m not going to raise that thing.”
Another reason is the pups may have been born weak, he said.
“Nature says you’re not going to be able to get this baby to survive,” Stones said. “So, the mom just goes away.”
Tiny and Tim are expecting company, Stones said, because plans are moving forward to bring in a female of the same age from Moody Gardens in Galveston. Stones said he hopes she will mate with one of the two.
The female pup was born in captivity, Stones said.
The two pups could become rivals if they do choose to try and mate with the new arrival, Stones said.
During mating season, the two males would be separated and then reintroduced once the season ends, he added.
Harbor seals can live for more than 20 years, Stones said, but there is no chance of them outgrowing their exhibit.
“We had six sea lions and sea lions will get up to 1,500 pounds,” he said.
The two seals were kept in a pool in the zoo since they arrived in early November while the exhibit was readied for their move, said Cristina Caballero, public relations coordinator for the zoo. Approximately 400,000 people visit the park annually, she said.
Four-year-old Isaac Herrera let out peals of laughter and squeals of joy as he watched the seals lumber into their new aquatic environment.
“Now look, it’s going to take a dive,” Nydia Herrera said to her son, Isaac.
“Look at it swim,” Isaac answered in response.
It was his first time at the zoo, and his mother said it was a joy to watch the boy’s response to the animals.
“It’s very exciting,” Herrera said. “It’s all new to us.”
Tiny and Tim will live in captivity for the rest of their lives because they were raised by people at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, Calif., Stones said.
“They’re both very tame,” Stones said. “They were raised by people from very little, so they have no fear of people. That’s the reason they can’t go back in the wild because they’d just get killed.”