ASLC Mourns Unexpected Passing of Steller Sea Lion, Mist
January 30, 2023

The Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) is saddened to share that Mist, a two-and-a-half-year-old Steller sea lion, unexpectedly passed away on January 23, 2023. The reason for her death is currently unclear. She appeared to experience seizure-like tremors and passed away within minutes of the episode. This is a heartbreaking loss for both the ASLC staff and the entire community. 


The incident occurred January 23 while Mist and three other Steller sea lions were socializing in a new group setting. To mimic natural and social behaviors in the wild, Steller sea lion groupings change regularly at the ASLC, and staff always monitor animals in new situations closely. The introductions went well, and the animal care staff noted play and normal social behaviors throughout the morning. 


Mist’s seizure-like tremors began suddenly and seemed unprompted. Due to the close monitoring protocol that day, an ASLC Mammalogist noticed the tremors as soon as they began and responded immediately. The other three Steller sea lions were shifted to another habitat so veterinary and animal care staff could tend to Mist safely. Though these staff arrived within minutes, Mist had unfortunately already become unresponsive.


A necropsy was performed the next day, but no immediate findings could explain the seizure-like tremors. Additional tissue samples were collected at the necropsy, and it could take several weeks for the samples to be processed and analyzed. Although ASLC staff are hoping for answers, the tests may never reveal the ultimate cause of her death.


Mist was born on June 26, 2020, to ASLC Steller sea lions Mara and Pilot. Mist was Mara’s first successful pup and the fifth successful Steller sea lion birth in the history of ASLC. Dr. Carrie Goertz, Director of Animal Health at the ASLC, recalls the special moments leading up to Mist’s birth in 2020, which 

was featured on the second season of NatGeo WILD’s Alaska Animal Rescue.


“Waiting for Mist to be born is my most impactful memory of my time with her. It dominated my life in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. When she was born, it was such a joyous event in a crazy world and a crazy time,” said Goertz. 


Many ASLC staff members watched Mist grow up, and she became an instant favorite for many guests visiting the ASLC.


 “Mist was an animal who touched you immediately with her playful, clever, gregarious personality, and she was quickly a favorite for staff and guests alike. She was a bubbling force of energy and inquisitiveness with a nearly unrivaled level of potential, possessing a balance of intelligence, patience, and cleverness that was uniquely amazing to behold in one individual,” said Michelle Hanenburg, ASLC Mammal Curator.


Since the announcement of Mist’s passing, ASLC Staff members and Seward community members have offered moving tributes, memories, and condolences on a number of online platforms. ASLC Mammalogist Shelby Burman shared her own touching statement:


“I spend more time with these animals than my family, and losing one is unexplainable. I know every small child in the town of Seward will be saddened by this loss as well. To all the animal caregivers in this world, I see you and I feel you. This is the absolute worst part of this job."


The Alaska SeaLife Center is one of only three aquariums in North America that house Steller sea lions. Every Steller sea lion contributes to the understanding and knowledge base of their important species, making the loss of this two-and-a-half-year-old impactful for the entire population. 


Update as of March 26, 2023: Unfortunately, a thorough necropsy did not lead to any concrete answers of what caused her seizure. A microscopic examination of Mist's tissues (known as a histopathology report) also did not reveal a cause. Not having a clear answer is incredibly hard for the ASLC staff. We will continue to explore possibilities with professional colleagues, but we may never know what caused her episode. We thank you all for your support over the past few weeks as we mourn the loss of an incredible animal. 


About Steller Sea Lions

Steller sea lions are the largest member of the eared seal family. The species ranges across the northern Pacific Ocean, from Japan through the Aleutian Islands and southeast Alaska to northern California. Divided into eastern and western regions, the western population is currently listed as endangered, while the eastern population was delisted in 2013 following notable recovery and significant conservation efforts.



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