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Monday, November 14, 2016

Send in the Seals

This past Friday was Veterans' Day, a holiday meant to celebrate the nation's armed forces.  Not surprisingly, zookeepers often like to also commemorate the nation's animal veterans, from dogs to horses to pigeons.  There is a long history of animals used in warfare, from Hannibal's elephants to the "bat bombs" contemplated for use against the Japanese in World War II.  The day before Veterans' Day, our nation lost one of its most unique animal enlistees.

Selkie, the oldest gray seal in captivity, passed away at the Smithsonian's National Zoo at the age of 43.  She wasn't the zoo's flashiest animal - easily overshadowed by the more active sea lions next door - but few zoo residents could match her story.  Born in Iceland, she was "recruited" into the US Navy when she was six months old.  Yeah, that's right... she was a Navy Seal.

Which is not to say she was a member of SEAL Team 6 or anything.  Instead, Selkie was trained to retrieve dropped objects, used tools (including screwdrivers), and turn valves.  She was trained alongside her future mate, Gunnar (deceased 2012), with whom she had four pups after her arrival at the zoo.  Two of them - Kara and Kyja - still reside there.

43-Year-Old Seal Passes Away at National Zoo
Photo credit: Smithsonian National Zoological Park

The US Navy no longer employees seals, though dolphins and sea lions are still in use.  Condolences to the staff who were lucky to care for an extraordinary animal with an extraordinary story.  I'm glad that they were able to share it with the world.

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