SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – A Guadalupe fur seal nursed back to health by SeaWorld and released into the ocean is now giving local researchers new information about an animal that was once thought to be extinct.
Brent Stewart, a senior research scientist with the Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute, is out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean right now tracking Gloria through a satellite receiver attached to her fur. He's hoping to learn more about an animal that was considered extinct in the early 1900s.
"We can maybe infer what other animals from that colony -- from that population, from that species -- where they might be feeding and what habitats are important to them," Stewart said.
Gloria was originally found in Carlsbad last December. She was grossly underweight, comatose and had lacerations. SeaWorld nursed her back to health and then returned her to the ocean.
The tracker shows Gloria, who was released 12 miles west of San Diego, wasted no time heading out of town. By Sunday she was off Catalina, where she hung out for several hours before heading to San Nicholas Island, where she came ashore. That's 275 nautical miles in just a week.
But by the time Stewart got to San Nicholas, Gloria was gone. Now he believes she'll head southwest past the edge of the continental shelf.
"And that's where we think their winter and spring feeding habitat is, but there's no date on this species to tell us that," Stewart said.
Thanks to conservation efforts, it's believed the Guadalupe fur seal population has grown to somewhere between 10,0000 and 12,000. A good start, but their survival is still in question, which is why they are listed as endangered by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.
Stewart knows his time following Gloria's path is limited. In August or September, she'll lose her fur, and the satellite tracker will fall off.