It’s a sad day for marine animal lovers as Washington’s National Zoo has reported that Gunnar, a gray seal who was trained by the Navy during the Cold War to perform tasks such as using a screw driver and retrieving objects from the ocean floor, has died. He was 38.
Born in Iceland in 1973, Gunnar spent a large portion of his early life as part of the U.S. Navy’s marine mammal program.
At age six months, Navy researchers had trained him to perform a number of unique underwater tasks since gray seals have the ability to dive down 475 feet and hold their breath for periods of 20 minutes at a time.
“In his career as a navy seal, Gunnar learned how to insert and remove equipment, use a screwdriver and turn a large wheel valve,” a spokesman for the National Zoo said in a statement.
After his Navy career at the Naval Oceans Systems Center in San Diego finished in 1979 Gunnar was shipped off to the National Zoo, where he became the Zoo’s senior male gray seal.
Prior to his death, Gunnar, who lived well beyond the normal wild gray seal lifespan of 25 to 30 years, had been in “declining health” for several months, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo’s website.
He is survived by two female pups, Kara and Kija, who were born at the National Zoo but later transferred to the Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey.