Mystic, Conn. (October 4, 2019): Nuna, a juvenile female spotted seal, has found a new home at Mystic Aquarium. Rescued in May in Stebbins, Alaska, amid an Unusual Mortality Event (UME), Nuna was treated by Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) before being transported to Mystic Aquarium. She joins the Pacific Northwest exhibit alongside Siku, another rescued spotted seal.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines a UME as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.”
Elevated ice seal strandings have occurred in the Bering and Chukchi Seas in Alaska since June 2018; prompting (NOAA) to declare a UME. Spotted seals are one of four species of ice-associated seals that also includes bearded, ringed and ribbon seals. NOAA has assembled an independent team of scientists to as part of this investigative process.
Children playing on a beach in Stebbins noticed the seal in distress and alerted tribal elders. She was transferred to ASLC on May 24; just weeks after her birth. Nuna was treated by the animal care professionals at ASLC for emaciation and dehydrated. Nuna was also found to be anemic as a result of gastrointestinal issues. During treatment, Nuna was deemed non-releasable by NOAA.
Nuna, which is short for Nunavulnuk, is named for a river that is south of Stebbins. In Eskimo, Nunavulnuk means “river that widens to a lake.”
“She’s a survivor,” said Laurie Macha, Curator of Marine Mammals & Birds at Mystic Aquarium, noting the current UME.
While the investigation is ongoing, speculation is that ice seals are being negatively impacted by early-season lack of sea ice, the reduction in food availability and the possibility of harmful algal blooms.
NOAA Fisheries sites that “understanding and investigating marine mammal UMEs is crucial because they can be indicators of ocean health, giving insight into larger environmental issues which may also have implications for human health.”
“It is always a privilege for us to be able to provide world-class animal care and a forever home for any of our species ambassadors,” continued Macha. “But one with such an incredible story helps us further educate and inform our guests not only of the importance of caring for our oceans but how they, too, can do their part. We know that Nuna will provide the inspiration.”
Guests are invited to see Nuna in Mystic Aquarium’s Pacific Northwest exhibit. She will also be featured in an upcoming episode of the National Geographic Wild series, Saving Wild Alaska that will air in 2020.