National Zoo welcomes five new seals

Photo by Rebecca McDevitt

Since opening last fall, the state-of-the-art seal exhibit at the National Zoo has been 39-year-old Selkie's domain. It has heated rocks for sunning and a 125,000 gallon pool that can be turned into a wave pool, to mimic the ocean. But Selkie is about to get five new "poolmates."

The new additions include one male gray seal named Gunther, two female gray seals, Kyja and Kara and two male harbor seals, Luke and Squeegee.

They're all from the Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey, which just shut down its seal program. Kyja and Kara happen to be Selkie's daughters, though they only spent four weeks together at birth.

For now, the new seals are living in back pools, separate from Selkie. Keepers say she doesn’t see very well and they don’t want to blindside her with five new roommates at once.

To increase Selkie's comfort level, the keepers reward her for spending more and more time near the other seals.

“She's slowly showing some interest and participating and interacting with them,” said Christina Castiglione, Zoo Keeper

Once the introductions are complete, the staff will work to change the exhibit's main pool from fresh water to salt water. In the meantime, the new seals are being trained to do things like get on and off a scale, perform tricks and even speak on command.

While the keepers don't have a firm date yet for when you can see all six seals together, they say it should be in the next month or so.