Babette the seal dies at Ocean Sciences Centre

Dec 23rd, 2021

Kelly Foss

The Department of Ocean Sciences has announced the death of one of its seals.

Babette, also known as Babs or Girlie, passed away on Wednesday, Dec. 22 under the care of Memorial University’s Animal Care Services veterinarians.

Babs was a harp seal and was collected from the Magdalen Islands (Îles de la Madeleine) by Dr. Jack Lawson of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on March 2, 1989. She and her pup were brought to the Ocean Sciences Centre (OSC) as part of a research program under the late Dr. Deane Renouf. Her estimated date of birth was March 1983, making Babs approximately 39 years old.

She is survived by her daughter, Deane, and Deane’s father, Tyler. Babs was predeceased by her sons, Jamie in 2013, and Millennium (Lenny) in 2014, as well as other seals housed at the facility over the years.

Deane, Jamie and Lenny were born at the OSC, making Babs one of the first harp seals to give birth in captivity. Life expectancy for harp seals in the wild is 20-30 years.

Thousands of visitors

Danielle Nichols, research marketing manager and academic program officer at the OSC says Babs was like a grandmother to the group and was social and inquisitive. Ms. Nichols coordinates the facility’s public education program, in which the seals play a major role.

“The seal viewing platform is accessible year-round, but in the summer months we have upwards of 22,000 people stopping by to visit them, plus thousands more throughout the year.” she said. “Some have been doing so for decades. They know each of the seals by name and by their personalities. They truly are the mascots of the university.”

“There have also been hundreds of students and volunteers who have helped us care for Babs and the others over the years. Many have been sharing their photos and memories of Babs with us on social media. She will be greatly missed.”

‘Zest for life’

Dr. Kate Wilson, Memorial’s clinical veterinarian, has been providing care to the harp seals for the last seven years. She notes that Babette had a zest for life, particularly for fish and for her favourite people, but that she had declined in health over the last few months.

Daryl Jones, a retired research assistant aquarist from the OSC, says he and Babs went through a lot together over the years.

“Babs was always the boss of the seals – and the boys knew that,” said Mr. Jones. “I called her Girlie in our morning chats, but she was not much on world affairs. Her favourite conversation was always ‘Where’s the fish?’ She had a very long and great life, but it is a sad day.”

The Ocean Sciences Centre is the only facility in the world with resident harp seals in an enriched environment. The OSC seals are now retired from the research program. However, over the years, programs have been related to behaviour and psychological studies of how harp seals learn and make choices, as well as functions specific to harp seals and seal husbandry – involving the general care and maintenance of seals.