Saying farewell to harbor seal Q

Harbor seal Q on a wooden flooring looking at the camera.
Q's gentle and patient disposition made him unique, and he will be missed by all who knew him.

It is with great sadness that we announce the loss of Q, one of our beloved harbor seals, at the age of 22.

Q started showing some health issues in March of this year. X-rays at the time showed a mass inside his chest. “Diagnostic tests suggested that the most likely cause was a cancer known as lymphoma,” says Dr. Caitlin Hadfield, senior veterinarian at the Seattle Aquarium. “This is seen commonly in dogs, although there are very few reports of it in harbor seals and they were all found at postmortem exams (necropsies). For Q, we could not be sure of the diagnosis without taking samples of the mass inside his chest, but he was started on treatment based on this most-likely diagnosis, and he responded rapidly.”

However, this type of cancer is incurable; treatment is really good at shrinking the cancer for a while, and Q did great for two months, but remission is always temporary with this disease. “He showed a decline again in late May,” says Dr. Hadfield, “which looked to be due to recurrence of the cancer, and he was started on a rescue treatment to try to get him feeling better.” This type of rescue is rarely successful in dogs, but we are happy to report that Q got back to his usual self for an additional three weeks.

We closely monitor how all the animals are doing, and our teams work tirelessly to give them the best quality of life we can for as long as they are in our care; this includes giving them a peaceful passing when we know that they cannot live their full lives again. Q’s care team recently saw signs that his last-line treatment was no longer working, and he was humanely euthanized on June 23, 2021.

The Seattle Aquarium also recently lost sea otter Aniak, who passed away at age 19 last week. “The Aquarium is fortunate to provide a home for some amazingly long-lived animals, and we’re extremely proud of the care they receive with us,” comments Curator of Birds & Mammals Julie Carpenter. “It’s always hard to say goodbye to one when their time comes.”

Our other elderly mammals, including 35-year-old harbor seal Barney and 21-year-old sea otter Adaa (currently the oldest sea otter in the U.S.), continue to do well.

Harbor seal Q on a wooden dock area resting in front of Harbor seal Barney.
Q with his "roomie," Barney—who, at 35 years old, is the roughly the equivalent of a 95-year-old human.

"Q was our go-to animal for new staff to learn feeding and training as he was incredibly patient and gentle. His laid-back personality and eagerness to participate in so many health care and husbandry trained behaviors made him a very unique harbor seal that the entire Bird and Mammal Team will miss greatly." 
—Kelli Lee, animal care specialist for the Aquarium’s Bird and Mammal team.

Q was born at Sea World San Diego and brought to the Seattle Aquarium in 2002. Over the course of his time in the Pacific Northwest, he was a wonderful ambassador for the Seattle Aquarium, including participating in a harbor seal breeding exchange with the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium (PDZA) in 2012. It was a successful exchange, with Q becoming the dad of Saya and Hogan (who currently resides at our Aquarium) with harbor seals Qilak and Shila, respectively, from PDZA.

“We will continue to learn a lot from Q and hope that we can use this information to help with diagnosis and treatment of this disease in other seals,” explains Dr. Hadfield. “He will be missed—and his impact will live on.”

Harbor seal Q lifting his head up and opening his mouth.
The Seattle Aquarium is privileged to care for amazing animals like Q in support of our mission, Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment.

In the wild, harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) spend equal time on land as at sea, and they’re inquisitive, though sometimes elusive. They have a thick layer of blubber, which stores energy, makes them buoyant, and influences their streamlined shape. Male harbor seals are often 4–6 feet long and weigh between 150 and 375 pounds, and Q was no exception, with his weight ranging between 180 and 240 pounds. (Pinnipeds—including both harbor seals and northern fur seals—show a wide range in weight across the year as part of their normal annual cycle.)

Harbor seals are a common sight around inland marine waters like Puget Sound. You’ve likely seen them in the water when you walked along the shore or rode a ferry, and they often sit on top of buoys or piers—like around Elliott Bay, where the Aquarium is located. They also live in coastal waters and estuaries.

Q was a beloved fixture at the Aquarium, and he will be missed greatly by all. His legacy of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment will live on in Saya and Hogan and through all those who knew him and enjoyed watching him in his habitat or on our live webcams.

We invite you to learn more about harbor seals by visiting the Aquarium in person or our website’s fact sheet, and you can view Hogan and Barney in their habitat via our live webcams and learn more about the breeding exchange program and veterinary care for harbor seals on our website as well.

Harbor seal Q resting his head between two orange pumpkins provided as enrichment.
Q getting up close and personal with some enrichment pumpkins for Halloween. He inspired countless visitors, volunteers and staff over his 22 years.

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