It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our beloved northern fur seal, Leu.
Seattle Aquarium animal care staff discovered Leu unresponsive in his habitat early in the morning on August 26. A rescue protocol was quickly initiated and CPR applied. “The Aquarium’s professional animal care team were vigorous in their response, following the established protocol for just this type of event,” says Seattle Aquarium Director of Life Sciences Grant Abel. Despite their best efforts, Leu couldn’t be revived.
In May of 2012, Leu was found stranded as a pup on a California beach and deemed non-releasable due to head trauma that resulted in blindness to his right eye. After three years with the New England Aquarium, Leu moved to the Seattle Aquarium in 2015. Several years ago, he was diagnosed with a seizure disorder for which he was being treated by our senior veterinarian and animal care team.
Leu wasn’t showing any signs of illness and his cause of death is currently unknown. Test results, which can take several weeks, will help us understand what role, if any, Leu’s seizure disorder may have played in his passing.
Out of an abundance of caution, we’ve drained the fur seal pool and Flaherty, Leu’s “roomie,” is temporarily in one of our unused sea otter pools. In the wild, male northern fur seals are solitary most of the year and Flaherty has been eating and behaving well—he doesn’t appear distressed by recent events. Nevertheless, he’ll be carefully monitored going forward.
Northern fur seals, like all marine mammals, are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)—they’re also protected by the Fur Seal Act. Roughly 50% of northern fur seals breed on Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, and those islands’ fur seal population is listed as depleted under the MMPA.
That’s just one of the reasons why Leu, one of just 10 northern fur seals living in zoos and aquariums in the United States, was such an important ambassador for the conservation of his species in the wild and efforts to expand knowledge of the species under human care.
“This is a sad moment for the Seattle Aquarium family, especially as many of the animal care staff have cared for Leu throughout his life here,” comments Grant. “While we knew this day might eventually come, this unfortunate event comes at a difficult time as everyone is also managing the impacts of the pandemic.”
Leu was beloved by our staff, volunteers, members and donors—as well as the hundreds and thousands of people who enjoyed seeing him in his habitat and watching him on our live webcams. He will always be remembered for his contribution to our mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment.
We’ll share more information as it becomes available. In the meantime, please check Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for tributes to Leu and his amazing life, as well as opportunities to share your memories. We also invite you to read more about northern fur seal conservation in this recent blog post, and watch a video of our Associate Curator of Birds and Mammals Julie Carpenter chatting with Jeremy Sterling from NOAA Fisheries/Alaska Fisheries Science Center about efforts to conserve northern fur seals in the wild.