PMMC-rescued harbor seal arrives at New York Aquarium

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Sidney the Harbor Seal shows off her whiskers at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Courtesy of PMMC

Sidney the Harbor Seal recently arrived at her new home, the New York Aquarium, after being rescued and rehabilitated by the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC).

The prematurely-born pinniped was rescued near Abalone Beach on Feb. 11. Sidney was found with her umbilical cord still attached and a white lanugo coat that seal pups generally shed in the womb, signaling that she was abandoned by her mother. Upon arrival at the Laguna Canyon center, she weighed in at just 14.6 pounds.

Rescuers named her Sidney after the young girl who found her.

Sidney after rescue in February with lanugo coat. Courtesy of PMMC

Sidney needed around-the-clock care for the first month of her life, including a feeding every few hours handled by shifts of staff and volunteers.

“We go by Sidney time here. It’s her world. We are just living in it,” Animal Care Coordinator Wendy Leeds said in a prepared statement.

PMMC veterinarians don’t know whether environmental factors led to the pup’s premature birth. It’s possible her mother was injured but since she was nowhere to be found, there is no way to tell, the nonprofit’s spokesperson said. 

Because Sidney never learned to forage for food from her mother, PMMC administrators determined she wasn’t a good candidate for a release into the wild like the majority of rehabilitated sea lions and seals. The National Marine Fisheries Service agreed with the PMMC staff and helped place Sidney at her permanent home in Brooklyn, New York.

“We are so excited she has found her forever home at the New York Aquarium,” Leeds said. “I know her time with us at PMMC seemed brief, but we can all be thankful for the time we did have with her and in knowing that everyone helped in giving her a second chance at life.”

Leeds added that her team feels very confident that Sidney will be loved and spoiled with her new family.

On Nov. 21st, Sidney was flown via a FedEx special cargo plane in a large crate customized for her cross-country journey. Two members of the aquarium team arrived a few days early to get acquainted with Sidney to make sure her transition was as stress-free as possible. She was loaded onto the plane last so she could be first off.

“The NY Aquarium vet and animal care team handlers were able to sit in the jumpsuit seats and keep an eye on her the entire time,” PMMC spokesperson Krysta Higuchi wrote in an email. “She did get a bit restless so the team was able to comfort her and let her know she wasn’t alone on the journey.”

A film crew followed Sidney’s journey to New York and it will be featured in the upcoming season of “The Zoo” on Animal Planet.

Jon Forrest Dohlin, director of the New York Aquarium, said his team was in contact with PMMC about Sidney earlier this year but the pandemic complicated transporting both her and in-flight caretakers. He added that his team is grateful for all the work the PMMC did to rescue rehabilitate her.

“It’s incredibly important for zoos and aquariums to provide homes for their unreleasable animals,” Dohlin said. “It not only helps us educate the public but diversifies the genetics of our captive population.

Sidney will be quarantined for another 20 days or so before being introduced to the five harbor seals at The New York Aquarium. The Wildlife Conservation Society-operated facility remains open under a reduced capacity because of COVID-19.

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