Staff at the Seattle Aquarium today celebrated the life of a northern fur seal named Al, a 19-year-old mammal who delighted millions of visitors during his long stay in the city. Al, who had reached old age and was in declining health, was humanely euthanized Tuesday morning.
“Losing an old friend is always difficult, but Al had a wonderful history that we will always remember,” said Traci Belting, marine mammal curator at the Aquarium.
It was January 23, 1993 when a seven-to-nine-month-old fur seal was discovered in a cow pasture in Hoquiam. The pup had become disoriented in a storm and had veered far from the open ocean where he should have been foraging for food. He was soon given the name Al, after the newly-inaugurated, and conservation-minded, Vice President Al Gore.
Earlier this year, The Seattle Times recalled Al’s introduction to our region: “The seal had traveled inland through a half-mile of forest and wound up hanging out in a pasture next to a bunch of lowing cattle.”
Because of his small size and lack of survival skills, the National Marine Fisheries Service declared Al unfit for release back into the wild, and he was brought to live at the Seattle Aquarium.
Al went on to thrive at the Aquarium, and eventually picked up the nickname, “Big Al.” As an adult male, he sired a pup, Isaac, who is now 11 years old and on loan for the breeding program at Boston’s New England Aquarium.
At 19-and-a-half years old, Big Al lived longer than any other male fur seal at the Aquarium. It is rare for a male fur seal in the wild to live past the mid-teens.
Here are some pictures of Al throughout his years at the Seattle Aquarium.
During his life, Al was a rich source of information for researchers. His food consumption and seasonal weight changes were shared with scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who used that information to make critical field calculations.
In recent weeks, daily life had become harder for Al. It was difficult for him to eat, and he was unable to haul himself out of the water. The staff, in consultation with the Aquarium’s veterinarian, agreed that it was time to humanely euthanize him.
Even after passing, Al will continue to educate. His remains will be sent to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, and to a researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
“Al will hold a special place in my heart as the first fur seal I ever trained,” Traci Belting said. “He responded well to training and even participated in his own healthcare by opening his mouth for dental exams and allowing us to draw a blood sample from his rear flipper. He was a wonderful animal and he will be missed.”