It’s already one year since Ron was born behind the scenes at the New England Aquarium!
Born on July 2, 2017, he is Tipper’s first baby.
Sea lion pups are born with baby hair called lanugo, which is dark chocolate brown to black. Pups molt, or shed, the baby fur twice in the first six months to develop a more resilient, light or dark brown coat like the adults. Pups are born with their eyes open and call to their mother almost immediately after birth. Although a little wobbly at first, the pups can walk and groom within 24 hours.
Sea lion mothers spend a few days bonding with their pups before leaving them on the beach to forage. Tipper did the same, remaining on land to nurse and take care of newborn Ron before she resumed swimming and eating fish. Baby sea lions do not develop the strength and coordination required to swim, until they are 3 to 4 weeks old, so the pups remain together on the rookeries while their mothers are foraging for several days at a time. During this time, they start to develop social, vocal, and swimming skills through interactions with each other and their mothers. The mother sea lion decides when it is time for her pup to learn to swim and how long the pup can stay in the water.
Learning to Swim
During his first two weeks, Tipper taught Ron to stay away from the water. First, she walked with him around the deck area, strategically blocking his access to the water. Once he followed her lead and without straying, she allowed him to walk with her along the edge of the deck, adjacent to the water. When she finally decided to go for a swim herself, Tipper positioned Ron about 10 feet away from the water’s edge and apparently directed him to stay there. She went for a very brief swim and came back to him, several times, reprimanding him if he had wondered toward the water in her absence. Subsequently, she spent time at the water’s edge or in the water at the edge of the deck, while allowing Ron to dip his nose and head into the water. After blowing bubbles and trying to inhale with his head under water, coughing and sputtering a little, Ron learned to hold his breath.
At this point, Tipper began to call to him, encouraging him to join her in the water. She even laid on the bottom of the pool to compel Ron to lean so far into the water to find her that he fell in. She immediately pulled him onto the deck. Over the next few days, Tipper gradually increased the number of seconds that she would wait before helping him out of the water, giving him time to get used to the sensation of floating and to build his strength and technique for climbing out of the pool. In addition, the trainers gave a kiddie pool to Ron to help build his confidence in the water. At 3 weeks old, he was doing pretty well floating and swimming on the surface of the water, but had not figured out how to dive under water. He made a concerted effort to practice holding his breath and attempting to dive to the bottom of the pool. By the end of the day he had a sense of what buoyancy was all about and had figured out how to dive and swim under water.
Meeting the Aunties
Once he was able to get out of the water without help, Ron met the other sea lions and seals. Luna, the youngest fur seal, seemed to be the most interested in getting to know him. Then Zoe and Sierra, the adult sea lions, readily assumed auntie roles by keeping an eye on him, resting with him, and playing with him. They even gave Ron their favorite resting spots and time in the kiddie pool, which they all enjoy, anytime Ron wanted these. By 6 weeks old, Ron swam well enough to spend time in the large pool on the main exhibit. He quickly made himself at home and began mimicking many of the behaviors of the other sea lions. We saw them teaching him how to play and where to nap. He even began to follow some of them around during their training sessions. On average, sea lion pups will nurse from their mothers up to a year. It looks like Ron will be nursing for a while longer, since he still prefers nursing to the offered food items such as smelt, ice, and nonflavored gelatin.
Getting to Know Ron
Throughout the year, the trainers have spent many delightful hours getting to know Ron. While playing with us he has become comfortable letting us rub him all over and handle his flippers. He frequently approaches us for a belly rub to catch water drops tossed to him. In addition, he has learned to come to us when called, sink under water and spin by following hose spray, roll onto his back for belly rubs while catching water droplets tossed to him, touch a target, swish toys into the water with his front flippers, and touch our hands with his front flippers. When willing to share a toy, he sometimes brings one to us, and sometimes will even open his mouth on cue.
As a 1-year-old sea lion, Ron spends a lot of time sleeping, nursing, growing, and playing.
In celebration of his first birthday, let’s look back at Ron’s first year!