A seal rescued from the California coast last year has a new home at the Aquarium of Niagara.
Lumiere, a male harbor seal, was about a month old on April 6, 2017, when he was found malnourished and dehydrated. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, Calif., rehabilitated him, but he still has trouble swallowing and can't forage or eat fish easily.
Officials of the National Marine Fisheries Service decided Lumiere could not survive in the wild, so they looked for an aquarium to take him.
The Aquarium of Niagara has a history of taking in animals with physical problems.
"We were selected based on our past experience of taking in animals with difficult cases," Executive Director Gary K. Siddall said Tuesday.
"We have animals who have amputated flippers," Siddall said. "We have a number of animals with visual impairments. We've taken animals with seizure conditions, so we're just known for being able to handle some of those specialized cases that require individualized care."
Lumiere, who arrived in mid-November, is the sixth rescued seal at the Niagara Falls aquarium, where they are displayed in a special habitat called Rescue Harbor.
"Building trusting relationships with all of our animals is essential to providing the highest quality care for them," said Richelle Swem, curator of animal care.
"Lumiere has been doing well during his adjustment time here at the aquarium. One of the biggest changes for him is the socialization with the other five seals and his environment. He has a very curious and playful demeanor with our staff and other animals," Swem said.
Lumiere needs to be hand-fed, Aquarium spokesman Joseph Weickart said.
"Right now we have one person assigned specifically to Lumiere," Siddall said. "Because of his odd food consumption habits, we made it a point to really carve some time out and have a staff person assigned to him alone."
Other than his dietary challenge, Lumiere "participates and interacts socially very, very normally for what we could consider typical harbor seal behavior," Siddall said.
In the wild, a harbor seal can live about 18 years. In captivity, life expectancy can be 25 to 35 years, Siddall said. The Aquarium of Niagara has a 38-year-old harbor seal, Sandy, who is one of the 10 oldest seals in any aquarium in the United States.
Its record with the animals needing special care may be one of the reasons the Association of Zoos and Aquariums gave its national accreditation to the Aquarium of Niagara earlier this year. The plaque noting the achievement is to be presented to the aquarium Wednesday.
"It's looked upon with fondness, but it's not necessarily an element of the accreditation," Siddall said.
Fewer than 10 percent of American zoos and aquariums have earned accreditation, which, according to the association's website, demands "the highest standards of animal care."
"Each zoo and aquarium is challenged with finding their own way to contribute to worldwide conservation efforts," Siddall said.