Unsupported Browser Detected

Internet Explorer lacks support for the features of this website. For the best experience, please use a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

Kitt The Harbor Seal Has Died

February 02, 2023

Wildlife medical specialists continue to look for what caused her death.

A young woman crouches on the step of a cement saltwater pool, holding a stick with a rubber target on its end. At her feet, two harbor seals await rewards as they respond to her whistle and touch the target with their noses. Aquarium staffer Sarah Shea training harbor seals Bubba (center) and Kitt (lower center) in the summer of 2022 at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Katie Dever

Kitt, the young harbor seal at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium, has died suddenly. She was discovered dead in her enclosure on January 23, 2023. There were no obvious signs of trauma.

In 2021, as a pup, Kitt was struck in the head by a boat propeller and seriously wounded. She was rescued off Kittery, Maine and taken into rehabilitation by Marine Mammals of Maine, a nonprofit organization that is also part of the standing network. Because her injuries took her eyesight, Kitt could not be returned to the wild and she was permanently placed at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium.

Kitt came to the aquarium in March 2022 and quickly became a staff and visitor favorite. Although small and blind, she was a daring companion to Bubba, our 22-year-old male harbor seal. She was born in the wild, while Bubba has spent his life in captivity. He has an old gentleman’s laidback pace, while Kitt enjoyed racing around and going for rides on Bubba’s broad back. A study in contrasts, the pair bonded quickly.

Marine mammal experts and veterinarians have completed initial examinations of Kitt’s remains but found no obvious cause for her death. There were some indications that she may have been susceptible to seizures owing to the massive head injury she sustained as a pup. Further laboratory tests on various tissues obtained during the necropsy (animal autopsy) may provide additional information.

Early evening at an aquarium seal pool. A larger male harbor seal is in the water, nose-to-nose with a smaller harbor seal that is lying on a partially submerged ramp.
Bubba (left) and Kitt (right) share a friendly nose-bump in their shared pool at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium during the summer of 2022. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Katie Dever

A speedy medical response was essential to eliminate obvious causes of Kitt’s death, and to ensure maximum retention of good quality samples to be tested for other possible contributing factors.

We are grateful to our stranding network partners at the International Fund for Animal Welfare Rescue Operations Center: Brian and Sarah Sharp, Misty Niemeyer, and Kate Mueller. They helped us arrange an MRI and necropsy for Kitt within 24 hours of her death. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. Their Cape Cod-based Marine Mammal Rescue & Research contingent responds to stranded marine mammals as part of our nationwide stranding network.

Our thanks to Devin Berthiaume and the staff at VCA South Shore (Weymouth) Animal Hospital for making their MRI facility available on short notice. Thanks also to Sophie Dennison, wildlife diagnostic imaging specialist at TeleVet Imaging Solutions, who put a rush on reading the MRI results.

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on March 22, 2023