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Gimpy the Excellent Elephant Seal

Abby Spencer, Staff Writer

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In 1994, an elephant seal left partially blind and paralyzed on one side by a head trauma was brought to the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, California. A volunteer, Hugh Ryno, spent weeks feeding, cleaning and helping the uncoordinated seal in and out of the pool. Appropriately, she was named Gimpy. Hugh was amazed by the seal’s gentle nature, as often times elephant seals can be aggressive and unpredictable. In fact, the northern elephant seal is the second largest seal in the world. It can grow to 14 feet in length and weigh more than 4,000 pounds. Hugh says, “She’d … lie there blowing bubbles and I’d have one-way conversations with her”. One day, shorthanded with volunteers, Hugh decided to unadvisedly enter the pin by himself. When the board he was using for protection was struck by an aggressive seal he lost his balance and slipped into the pool. Three aggressive male seals rushed towards him as he saw another one approaching from the side; he soon realized it was Gimpy. “All I knew was that at that moment she became my sanctuary from those attacking seals lumbering toward me…She became my shield” Hugh says. The three seals persisted until Gimpy displayed her teeth and Hugh was able to hop out of the pool. Hugh says that her aggressiveness in the time of crisis was  “all a facade. She’s a gentle giant!”. On June 7, 1995, Gimpy was  on her transferred to a center in Portugal. “Waiting for her at her new home was a handsome male elephant seal and a caring group of marine mammal trainers. And what did the trainers name their new elephant seal princess? Gimpy!” Hugh says.

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Gimpy the Excellent Elephant Seal