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Once a Navy seal (not SEAL), Selkie, oldest gray seal in human care, dies at National Zoo

Selkie, oldest gray seal in human care, dies at National Zoo. (Chelsea Grubb, Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

Selkie, the oldest gray seal living in human care, died Thursday at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Zoo officials say Selkie, a female, was 43 years old and lived well past the normal lifespan of a wild gray seal, 25 to 30 years. She had been monitored and treated for months for masses on her abdomen.

According to a statement from the zoo, before coming to the National Zoo in 1979, Selkie had been trained and utilized by Navy researchers for underwater tasks:

Selkie arrived at the National Zoo in January 1979 from the Naval Oceans Systems Center in San Diego. When she was 6 months old, Navy researchers trained Selkie to perform underwater tasks during the Cold War. Gray seals can dive down to 1,000 feet deep and remain underwater for 20 minutes, so they were considered an efficient and effective means to retrieve items from the ocean floor. In her career as a Navy seal, Selkie learned how to insert and remove equipment, use a screwdriver and turn a large wheel valve.

So, yes, Selkie was once a Navy seal, but not a Navy SEAL.

WATCH: National Zoo welcomes five new seals (MARCH 26, 2013):


In her years at the zoo, Selkie birthed four female pups. Two of those, Kara and Kjya, are still at the zoo and Kara has a pup named Rona.

Photo credit: Chelsea Grubb, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

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