April 13, the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) admitted a one-week-old bearded seal pup into their Wildlife Response Program. The female pup was observed on the shores of Shaktoolik by local residents.
A few school children in the village took it upon themselves to ensure the seal wasn’t harassed by people or pets. Ice seals are hunted for subsistence purposes in many northern villages of Alaska, but since the children became attached to this particular animal, the village decided to call ASLC for help.
Village Police Officer, Jeffery Paniptchuk, played a crucial role in transporting the seal from the village to Ravn Air. He located the pup after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) granted permission to secure the animal.
Upon arrival to the Center, ASLC staff noted the pup was extremely underweight. Adding weight onto a young bearded seal is no simple task. In the wild, bearded seal pups gain three times their weight within a few weeks of birth, indicating mother’s milk has a high fat content.
“If you feed too much fat to a starving animal too quickly it can be harmful. We have to take her weight gain slow to make sure her body can process the nutrients,” states Wildlife Response Curator, Jane Belovarac. Since this is one of the few bearded seal pups in ASLC’s history, a special formula was created for her with the vet staff taking elements from walrus, harbor seal,
and fish gruel formulas.
Because this pup was extremely underweight upon arrival, it had trouble regulating body temperature, especially when swimming. “When she first started swimming, staff had to assist her out of the water to ensure she didn’t get too cold,” states Husbandry Director, Lisa Hartman.
Staff are working to increase her blubber layer through regular feedings every four hours.
In honor of the community of Shaktoolik, ASLC requested that the students name the seal. The students agreed she should be called ‘Saktuliq,’ the Inupiaq spelling of Shaktoolik.
Saktuliq means, ‘scattered things.’ “Our village is one of the oldest villages in Alaska and quite historical. Naming this seal Saktuliq will help honor our home and community,” states elementary bilingual
teacher, Ethel Fuller.
After being treated by ASLC’s Wildlife Response Team, Saktuliq’s condition has greatly improved. She has more than doubled her weight since arriving at the Center in April from 23 kg to 68 kg. She is now visible in the Center’s I.Sea.U critical care unit.