Rescued fur seal relocating from Boston to Seattle

New England Aquarium’s “Chiidax” makes cross-country trip to provide companionship for Seattle Aquarium’s “Flaherty”

CREDIT: New England Aquarium

BOSTON, MASS. (March 22, 2022) – A rescued northern fur seal who has lived at the New England Aquarium for eight years is moving from Boston to Seattle to provide companionship for a fur seal at the Seattle Aquarium.

Chiidax (pronounced CHEE-DAK), who came to the New England Aquarium in 2013, will reunite with the Seattle Aquarium’s resident northern fur seal, Flaherty, this spring. Flaherty was born at the New England Aquarium nine years ago, and the two seals spent their early years together before Flaherty moved to Seattle in 2015. Flaherty has been without a companion for over a year, leading animal care staff at the aquariums to consider relocating Chiidax. With just eight northern fur seals in human care in the United States, representatives from the New England Aquarium, Seattle Aquarium, and Mystic Aquarium stay in close contact to collaboratively share information about fur seal welfare, veterinary care, and breeding efforts.

“The relationship that Flaherty and Chiidax fostered during their pup years at the New England Aquarium makes Chiidax the ideal companion animal for Flaherty and allows for a rekindling of the camaraderie developed in their early years,” said Marie Allen, senior marine mammal trainer at the New England Aquarium.

Marine mammal staff have met regularly to discuss plans for the move. On March 22, Chiidax traveled to Seattle on a FedEx flight, accompanied by Allen, his primary trainer, and Dr. Kathy Tuxbury, a New England Aquarium senior veterinarian. Allen will stay in Seattle for a week to help Chiidax acclimate to his new environment and work directly with his new trainers, including Mariko Bushcamp, an animal care specialist who visited Boston in January to meet Chiidax and learn more about his behavioral history.

“We are very excited to welcome Chiidax to the Seattle Aquarium,” said Julie Carpenter, Seattle Aquarium’s curator of birds and mammals. “This is a great opportunity to continue our collaboration with New England Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium to care for and learn more about these magnificent marine mammals.”

Chiidax will spend a period of time in his new habitat before being re-introduced to Flaherty. The Seattle Aquarium just finished renovations on a new exhibit space for Flaherty and Chiidax, which includes underwater viewing for guests to witness the physical beauty and playfulness of northern fur seals.

Northern fur seals populate the North Pacific Ocean. They are a vulnerable species, commercially hunted for their thick fur until the practice was banned in 1984. The population has continued to decline since then. Possible factors for the species’ decline include overfishing, entanglement in fishing gear, and climate change.

This is not the first time Chiidax’s life has taken him across the country. He was found in a box on the doorstep of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game offices, underweight and dehydrated. While his health did improve, federal wildlife officials determined he could not be released back into the wild. He was transferred from the Alaska SeaLife Center to the New England Aquarium to be raised by experienced fur seal trainers and quickly grew comfortable with his surroundings. Chiidax was just 20 lb. when he first arrived at the New England Aquarium. He now weighs 240 lb. and enjoys laying in the sunny shallow waters of his habitat, people watching, and exploring enrichment activities.

While New England Aquarium marine mammal staff say goodbye to Chiidax knowing he will be well cared for at the Seattle Aquarium, they are also mourning the loss of Kitovi, a lively northern fur seal who passed away this past week from a liver disease that also affected her mother and grandmother. Kitovi touched the lives of thousands of visitors both in person and virtually, and was a model steward for her wild counterparts.

MEDIA CONTACT:

Pam Bechtold Snyder – psnyder@neaq.org, 617-686-5068