Aquarium seals land safely in New Mexico

Expansion plans force gift to Albuquerque

May 21, 2002|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

After their breakout attempt was foiled, four aging seals from the National Aquarium in Baltimore were flown out of town yesterday to spend the rest of their days in New Mexico.

Gray seals Ike, 30, and Lady, 28, and harbor seals Danny, 25, and Luciver, 22, arrived safely in Albuquerque and splashed into their spacious new pool at the Rio Grande Zoo about 3 p.m. yesterday, eight hours after they left Pier 3 in Baltimore.

"They're doing very well, and we are jubilant because we had anticipated there may be some problems, because the seals are elderly and they had occupied this pool for so long," said Joseph L. Geraci, the aquarium's director of biological programs.

The early-morning move went like clockwork, Geraci said. But not before Lady, whom he described as the "matron of the colony," led a breakout from the aquarium's holding room Sunday evening back into the outdoor exhibit pool.

"She was just jiggling the gate, and jiggling the gate - maybe to amuse herself, or maybe she was determined to go back into the water," Geraci said. The gate opened, the seals slipped out and dove into the pool.

Aquarium staff had to lower the water level in the pool, load the seals into their travel crates and return them to the holding room. They remained there until the airport transfer began at 3 a.m.

The seals were moved to Albuquerque because aquarium expansion on Pier 3 - due to begin this year - will eliminate their pool. A new one won't be built before 2007.

The Baltimore newcomers join one harbor seal and five California sea lions in residence at the Rio Grande Zoo.

Their new pool is five times as big as Baltimore's. Its conversion from freshwater to salt -- at the National Aquarium's insistence and expense - has already had a beneficial effect on its resident sea lions.

Ray Darnell, director of Albuquerque Biological Park, said the sea lions' persistent cloudy eye condition "has almost totally cleared."

Geraci said the cloudiness is caused by an infiltration of fresh water into the protein of the seals' corneas.

"When you use sea water, it draws that fluid out of the eye and restores its clarity," he said. If the salinization of the zoo's pool had that effect, "that's a bonus for everybody."

The zoo's seal pool is also being chilled from 84 degrees in summer to 60 degrees to keep the arctic gray seals comfortable - another upgrade financed by the aquarium.

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