The Zen of Grooming

When you have two young fur seal pups and their boisterous friends to contend with, sometimes you need a little moment of relaxation. The marine mammal staff caught Ursula in the fur seal's version of the lotus pose this week. She looks quite peaceful, no?

This mama is actually grooming her beautiful fur coat in this picture. See how her hind flipper is stretched over her shoulder? She is rubbing her fur with the underside of her flipper. On the top of  a Northern fur seal's rear flippers rear flippers are toe nails that are able to dig in and comb the fur or just give a good scratch. Sometimes the fur seals might scratch their backs on a rock or rub their bellies with a front flipper. Whew, grooming is a lot of hard work.

As we've mentioned before, fur seals rely on their fur to keep them warm when they're hunting in the cold waters of Northern Pacific Ocean (or spending winters in Boston). They have more hairs in a square inch than 3 or 4 people have on their heads—and we're not talking about your bald uncles, either. Unlike sea lions or harbor seals that have a cozy layer of blubber, fur seals rely on fur stay warm.

Ooh, that's the spot!

Fur seals were commercially hunted for their pelts until the practice was banned in 1966. The population has continued to decline since then. The reasons for the decline in fur seal populations are unclear, but possible factors include overfishing, entanglement in fishing gear, climate change and pollution.

The New England Aquarium is one of only a few zoos or aquariums where you can see this beautiful species, and the seals are part of a special breeding program. Both Flaherty and Kitovi were born here! We've also taken in rescued pups—Leu and Chiidax—that were abandoned or injured as youngsters and wouldn't have been able to survive in the wild.

Consider these links your intro to the whole gang of Northern fur seals and California sea lions at the marine mammal center, but you really should pop by to say hi yourself! Click on the links below to see what kind of antics these animals are up to in the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center:


Get a harbor seal's-eye view

Chacoda, here, is giving us the chance to see what the harbor seals see during a training session. Not only can we see the tunnels and toys underwater in the exhibit, but you can also see yourselves—the visitors—through the glass!

Lead marine mammal trainer Paul Bradley has been working with Chacoda, or Chuck, for many years. The pair have a strong connection, and Paul has taught him some impressive behaviors.

Paul and Chacoda, or Chuck

You may recall that Paul trained Chuck to wear a simple harness across his back and over his flippers several years ago. That harness was fitted with a camera back in 2008 and our very own "crittercam" was born.

Paul adjusts the new GoPro camera on Chuck's harness

Fast-forward to 2014 and the advancements in underwater camera technology have come a long way. The harness is fitted with a tiny GoPro camera today, which returns crisp video and exciting perspectives of the exhibit. And if you liked this video, wait until you see the one we have up our sleeves. Chacoda was wearing the harness when he was showing his ability to leap out of the water and spin! Stay tuned for that one.

Check out these links to learn more about the harbors seals:

Come by the Aquarium this weekend and see if the seals want to interact through the glass. Want to get even closer to a seal? Like, in the exhibit next to a seal? Consider our Meet and Greet a Seal programs with the fur and harbor seals! Get a front-row seat as a trainer teaches new skills, feel the seal's belly fur, maybe even get a kiss.