ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque’s three harbor seals have been missing from their public exhibit at the zoo for nearly a year, but the animals are actually still being cared for on-site.
The trio known as Baby, Feisty and Gracie remains in a temporary enclosure on BioPark property as the facility’s staff is still trying to find new homes for the marine mammals.
“What we have created is a giant almost figure eight, so they can come and go freely,” said Dr. Erin Flynn, describing the seals’ enclosure in an interview with KRQE News 13 Friday.
Flynn is the BioPark’s mammal curator who oversees the harbor seals care as part of her job.
“They’re loving it, they’re absolutely thriving, happy and healthy and totally adjusted to life out here,” said Flynn of the seals’ temporary enclosure, which is made of two pools and a deck.
It’s been about nine months since the seals left their big tank near the carousel at the zoo. The move was, in part, a way for the city to prepare the decades-old facility for demolition. Federal animal inspectors also determined in 2018 the seal’s exhibit needed serious repair if the animals were to continue using it.
“(The seals) old exhibit is going to be part of the Australia domain that’s coming in,” Flynn said. “I think everybody, when that’s all done, will be super excited.”
It’s unlikely that the three current seals under the BioPark’s care will ever go back on public display. The city is not currently working on a replacement enclosure for the seals inside of the zoo.
“We continue to care for and love them and help them thrive where they are here with us,” said Flynn.
The seals’ temporary enclosure is in an outdoor “staff only” area of the BioPark that is not accessible to the public.
Meanwhile, the zoo is trying to find the seals a new home in a zoo or aquarium in another city. That process hasn’t been easy so far. The city is looking to put the mammals into a facility that is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“A few (facilities) have stepped away from harbor seals because they themselves are not critically endangered,” said Flynn.
With no timetable on when the seals could get a new home, for now, they’ll be living behind the scenes in Albuquerque.
“They are deeply cared for, and we are working with other zoos to help find a really good place for them to go,” said Flynn.
The seal’s old enclosure at the zoo is likely to be demolished sometime in 2020.
While a new seal enclosure is part of the BioPark Master Plan, which was finalized in 2014, the exhibit’s replacement has been pushed back in favor of other, smaller projects. A new seal enclosure could cost roughly $25 million.