San Francisco Zoo gray seal dies – Orkney was 42

Orkney the gray seal

Orkney the gray seal. Photo: Marianne Hale courtesy San Francisco Zoo.

Orkney, the San Francisco Zoo’s gray seal, was euthanized Friday morning after falling ill.

Orkney was 42, and the zoo said he was believed to be oldest gray seal in captivity at any of the zoos or aquariums accredited by the North American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. According to a statement from the zoo, although Orkney was old, his health declined suddenly on Thursday:

For the past several months, Orkney had been undergoing medical treatments as well as regular training sessions that allowed staff to monitor his weight and conduct visual exams. Yesterday, his keepers noticed that he was extremely lethargic and weak. They kept a close eye on him in hopes his condition would improve. On Friday morning, his breathing was deep and labored, and he showed no signs of engagement or interaction. After careful consultation with the Zoo’s Animal Care staff and the Chief of Veterinary Services, the decision to euthanize him was made.

“Unfortunately, we had to make the decision to say goodbye to Orkney,” Tanya M. Peterson, San Francisco Zoological Society Executive Director and President said. “He had been our own Lance Armstrong by beating the odds for so long. He’ll be greatly missed by staff and visitors alike.”

Orkney’s death comes just a few days after Gene, an African black rhinoceros, died.

The San Francisco Zoo acquired Orkney in 1970. He was born in Prince Edward Island in Canada. Scientifically known as Halichoerus grypus, gray seals are found on both the European and North American sides of the North Atlantic Ocean, and formerly were hunted commercially.

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  1. I agree Karen, it was quite pitiful.

  2. Good for Orkney – he’s moved on to a better place no doubt. The exhibit the zoo had him in was dreadful – a bare pool with nothing else, and he was alone every time I saw him. I always felt sorry for him. So glad he is finally free.

    • My understanding is that Orkney was rescued from military research and placed in the zoo. He had a large indoor pool as well which he had access to, and had a companion for many years. They couldn’t move him to a new location due to his blindness and old age – he knew his area’s boundaries by heart. Orkney was actually surprisingly active, swimming and spinning in the water with ease up until the end. Most grey seals live to be 20 if they are lucky, and with the zoo’s care, Orkney lived to be 42. We should not anthropomorphize sadness upon an animal who was not sad. Rest in peace, Orkney.


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