trainer and Cruz handshakeEarlier this month we reported on rescued California sea lion pup Laguna. Maybe you’ve had the special chance to see another rescued sea lion, Cruz, in an aquatic show. Since we last visited with the blind pup, he has become fast friends with Ty, the big sea lion who regularly appears in the show, and Cruz and Ty now share a behind-the-scenes habitat as well as time on exhibit.

Cruz and Ty“They sleep huddled up next to each other,” says Lisa Takaki, senior director of marine mammals. “Sometimes it looks like he’s the boss of Ty, which is so cute.”

Cruz had to know every inch of the wet and dry areas of his habitat and be completely comfortable and confident in the space before the marine mammals team brought in Ty.

“We have to be so thoughtful about everything we do with Cruz,” says Lisa. “When we introduce him to a new area, we go in with him because he doesn’t know what’s there. We methodically lead him with his rattle target to different areas so that he knows they exist. We make sure he has lots of time to explore the new space, and we observe him carefully. We make sure he experiences every area and finds his comfort space. Then we can add another animal. It’s a process.”

Cruz himself is methodical in getting the feel of a new pool. When he was introduced to Grainger Sea Lion Cove, he began at one end of the long pool and swam in ever-widening circles to gauge the space, using his long whiskers to detect the pool walls. Then, sensing more space, he moved over and repeated his “measuring” of the area. Cruz now has mental maps of all the sea lion pools.

“We include Cruz in a show every now and then,” says Lisa. The pup has learned to ride in a cart so that he can be moved safely and easily from his pool to the coastal walkway for shows. Lisa points out that show appearances are really positive-reinforcement training sessions in front of guests, and the little sea lion “can only eat so much food” in addition to what he receives during his usual training sessions, so he’s not a regular yet. “We are concentrating on his normal training,” she says, “and he’s learning so much.”

TannerAnother rescued sea lion you can see on exhibit is Tanner, an adult male who was relocated to Shedd from the Pacific Northwest. In an area around the Bonneville Dam, he and other sea lions were repeatedly feasting on endangered Chinook salmon. Tanner, who arrived at Shedd in June 2012, is Mr. Cool, according to Lisa.

“Nothing fazes him. If I walked into the sea lion exhibit and did a jig, Biff [another Bonneville rescue] would be barking his head off because it was different. Tanner would just look at me. Because of his calm nature, we’ve been able to move him onto exhibit often, and we've given him access to the big medical pool. His training is going really great.

“And so is Biff’s. We’re very careful with Biff because he’s a big adult—about 640 pounds. But he’s so good. We do sessions with him at the exhibit through the plexiglass window on the side of the habitat. He’ll target, spin and bow. He’s doing great.”

Shedd Aquarium’s sea lion rescue and rehabilitation efforts are funded in part by Exelon Corporation.

What’s good for the sea lions is also good for the dogs. The three pooches rescued from area shelters have responded well to their loving, positive care and are overcoming the behavioral challenges they developed early on due to lack of training or to abuse.

“Bruce, Dory and Coral are all doing great,” Lisa says. “They’re learning new behaviors every day. What we focus on is getting the dogs comfortable in all areas of the aquarium. With any shelter dog, you have to understand its history and build a trusting relationship through positive reinforcement and lots of love. That’s what we do here and demonstrate in the show so that our guests can do the same at home to have the best possible animal friend.”

If you’re inspired by these and other Shedd stories of rescue and rehabilitation, please make a gift to our annual fund. With your support, we can always be ready to respond to animals in urgent need with emergency veterinary care, rehabilitation, or a permanent home at Shedd. Strengthen your connection to the living world and make a difference for animals like Cruz, Tanner, Biff, sea turtle Nickel, our sea otters, the dogs and so many more.

Karen Furnweger, web editor

Editor's note: Tanner joined the sea lions at Brookfield Zoo in 2015.