DNA analyses confirmed that two seal pups born on a beach in the United Kingdom are the world's first twin gray seals born in the wild.
The pups were born Nov. 28 on Horsey Gap beach, near the English coastal town of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. In early December, however, their mother stopped feeding and abandoned them.
Since their birth, the newborn seals - one female and one male - have been closely monitored by the conservation group Friends of Horsey Seals. The organization arranged for the animals to be rescued from the beach and transferred to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Wildlife Hospital, where the pair currently resides.
After testing the seals and blood-soaked sand surrounding the beach birth site for DNA, scientists from Norway's Institute of Marine Research revealed the seals do in fact have the same mother.
"It is so rare. It is very exciting," Anne Kirstine Frie, a researcher from the Institute of Marine Research, said.
The institute later confirmed the pups, subsequently dubbed R2-D2 and C-3PO, represent the first record of wild gray seal twins in the world.
"Our pups will go into the history books as being the very first twin gray seals ever recorded," David Vyse, a volunteer from Friends of Horsey Seals, added.
Until now, gray seal twins have only ever been born in captivity.
"It must happen in the wild from time to time, but we have never had knowledge of wild gray seal twins," Frie said. "In the wild they very rarely survive, the both of them, but these are both in good health."
The pups arrived at the RSPCA Wildlife Hospital weighing about 50 pounds each, suggesting their mother had done a very good job of feeding them before leaving.
Horsey Gap beach is a very popular breeding ground for seals. Experts estimate 800 seal pups were born at the beach last year.
However, Horsey Gap beach also attracts tens of thousands of human visitors each year. This creates a problem, as mother seals frighten easily, which is likely the case for the twin pups' abandonment.
"Gray seal cows [females] are very susceptible to disturbance when they are with their pups on the beach," Alison Charles, the manager of RSPCA East Winch, explained. "If this happens, they are likely to move away from the pup into the sea and may not return to feed their pup."
Another theory as to why the pups' mother left suggests that she may have run out of milk while caring for two pups instead of one.
The RSPCA plans to release the twin gray seals back into the wild, once they have gained some more weight.