By Dave Sigworth, publicist of The Maritime Aquarium
The Maritime Aquarium is about to celebrate a special birthday – our 25th on July 16.
But here’s another birthday of special note: Susie, the grand dame harbor seal of the Aquarium, has turned 40 years old. We believe that makes her the third-oldest harbor seal displayed in a zoo or aquarium in the country.
Susie is senior in age to all but three members of the Aquarium’s animal-husbandry staff, the people who care for her!
Join us this Thursday at the 11:45 a.m. seal feeding to sing “Happy Birthday” to the old girl.
Harbor seals live into their 20s in the wild and commonly beyond that in zoos and aquariums, where they receive close husbandry care. Susie currently ranks third behind two 43-year-old harbor seals at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wis. (The oldest that any seal is known to have lived was a 53-year-old gray seal in Europe.)
Susie was born on the shores of Sable Island, Nova Scotia, in May 1973 but found alone when less than a month old. Helping to arrange her rescue was Jack Schneider, who was then working on his master’s degree from the University of Rhode Island but has been animal curator at The Maritime Aquarium for all of our 25 years.
Young Susie was taken to Mystic Aquarium, where she eventually participated in a laboratory development of prophylactic heartworm medication, first used for dogs and later also approved for seals.
She and her daughter, Tillie (born in Mystic in 1986), came to Norwalk from Mystic in 1988 for our grand opening.
Unbeknownst to anyone, Susie arrived in Norwalk pregnant and gave birth in June 1989. That has been the only seal birth at The Maritime Aquarium. The seal, named Eve, died in 1999 during surgery.
Visitors know Susie from her lighter fur coloration and from the corneal scarring over her eyes, a condition that might have been fatal in the wild but one that she has handled with aplomb in the Aquarium’s 20,000-gallon exhibit.
Certainly, there have been children who came to the Aquarium in our early years and visited Susie, and who then went on to grow up to bring their children here to see her. So she has helped to inspire two generations of visitors to care about seals and their environment: Long Island Sound and the ocean beyond.