The Alaska SeaLife Center has been caring for a bearded seal pup since mid-April, the first time since 2002 that the aquarium’s wildlife response program has admitted a bearded seal, the Center said in a statement. 

The female pup was approximately one week old when it arrived on April 13. This pup was found on the beach at Shaktoolik, a coastal village on the Bering Sea south of the Seward Peninsula. Bearded seals are one of the four so-called ice seals, along with ribbon, spotted and ringed seals.

A small group of school children reportedly took a liking to the pup, prompting village officials to call the SeaLife Center, according to the statement.

The pup was seriously underweight when first examined, posing a challenge for response staff. Ordinarily, bearded seals put on three times their weight within weeks of their birth. But rapidly fattening an undernourished pup has its own dangers.

“If you feed too much fat to a starving animal too quickly it can be harmful. We have to take her weight gain slow to make sure her body can process the nutrients,” said Wildlife Response Curator Jane Belovarac.