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Steller sea lion has first captive birth in years

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MARK THIESSEN | June 29, 2013 04:14 PM EST | AP

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A Steller sea lion pup born at the Alaska SeaLife Center holds an important distinction. It's the first such pup born in captivity on this continent in decades, said the center's president, Tara Riemer Jones.

"This is the first time since the 1980s that there's been a Steller sea lion birth in North America, so we're totally thrilled," she said.

The pup, which probably won't be named for months, was born at 5:35 a.m. June 20.

Her mother is Eden, a 13-year-old Steller sea lion on breeding loan from the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia. The pup's father is the resident male at the Alaska SeaLife Center.

"Woody is the proud dad," Jones said, adding that he will turn 20 this summer. "We don't know how much longer we will have him around."

Staff members have been monitoring Eden and another female on loan 24/7 for about the last month.

Even though this is the first pup born in captivity in a long time, she said a lot of staff and helpers have experience caring for California sea lion pups, which are very similar only smaller.

The staff for the last 14 years also have been monitoring via video a rookery on Chiswell Island, about 30 miles south of the center, in Resurrection Bay.

"There are a lot of staff who have watched many, many sea lion pups have watched these pups grow and nurse with their moms," she said.

The birth is also part of a research project looking at the transmission of nutrients from mother to pup.

In the wild, females will normally mate within days of giving birth and become pregnant with another pup while also feeding the newborn for about a year.

"We're trying to understand, how in the world adult female sea lions are almost always both pregnant and nursing, how that works," she said.

The pup won't be available for public viewing for a few months.