Each year, Shedd Aquarium lives a commitment to providing opportunities that grant millions of people the chance to look nature in the eye and connect with marvelous and mysterious aquatic animals. Often this starts with one connection — one animal — that binds our personal lives to the greater shared blue planet.
One such animal for Shedd Aquarium has been California sea lion Ty. We are deeply saddened to share that he passed away late Monday night. Over the last 14 years, Ty touched more than 25 million guests through his charismatic presence and incredible abilities, including his reverberating roar, which could be heard throughout the Abbott Oceanarium.
Alerted by Ty’s uncharacteristic decline in appetite last week, Shedd Aquarium’s animal caretakers and veterinarians began 24/7 observation and medical intervention. Despite these efforts, the 18-year-old sea lion succumbed to complications associated with acute liver failure. Initial bloodwork and later necropsy results confirmed the diagnosis.
Ty was part of the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program until 2005, where a cataract was discovered in one eye. With the equivalent of a medical discharge, he was welcomed at Shedd. He immediately became an affable ambassador for his species, helping us tell important stories about sea lions’ biology, ecology and ongoing population recovery thanks to protective regulations.
Millions of connections
Over the years, Ty developed close relationships with several of Shedd’s other resident sea lions. He was the first adult sea lion to be introduced to our blind rescued sea lion, Cruz, and the two of them quickly made a habit of sleeping huddled next to each other. He was also the first sea lion at Shedd to meet another rescued pup, Laguna.
Ty zestfully threw his weight—around 500 pounds—into everything he did. He especially loved to learn new behaviors. Madelynn Hettiger, manager of sea lions and birds of prey, had the privilege of working with Ty over the last 14 years and shared how she was often impressed with his behaviors.
“His passing is heartbreaking to our team, which loved and cared for him since he joined the Shedd family. We are so grateful for what we learned by working with him and for being able to teach millions of people about him—guests who might otherwise never be able to see these animals in the wild,” she said.
The second-largest of our sea lions, Ty consumed 31 pounds of food a day. Herring was his absolute favorite fish, and he also enjoyed capelin and squid (especially playing with squid and chomping it like bubble gum). For enrichment, he loved ice and unflavored Jell-O (with or without a fish inside), swallowing chunks whole.
For all their bulk, underwater, sea lions are fast and stealthy. Ty’s hydrodynamic form zoomed into Whale Harbor from adjoining pools.
Ty was also famous for delivering a fishy “kiss” on the cheek to hundreds of guests, often snorting as he did so.
“Ty was an incredible ambassador for his species, helping us tell important stories about California sea lions and why they need our protection and federal laws in place like the Endangered Species Act to preserve them from extinction,” said Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer. “He also provided critical knowledge and understanding for our animal caretakers, arming them with knowledge to apply to animals in crisis through rescue and rehabilitation efforts.”
“His passing is heartbreaking to our team, which loved and cared for him since he joined the Shedd family. We are so grateful for what we learned by working with him and for being able to teach millions of people about him—guests who might otherwise never be able to see these animals in the wild.”Madelynn Hettiger, manager of sea lions and birds of prey
Over the years, Shedd’s Animal Response Team has been able to take what they’ve learned from caring for our sea lions and lend support to several major rescue centers on the West Coast, including partners at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) and Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute (CIMWI), to rescue, rehabilitate and release wild California sea lions. This year alone, Shedd Aquarium sent two full-time staff members to California, clocking 170 hours working to rescue dehydrated and often orphaned sea lions.
"With a commitment to the welfare of animals—within the aquarium and around the world—we have a longstanding history of responding in times of urgent need," Sloan added. “Shedd’s animal care experts, veterinarians, vet techs and volunteers take what they learn at the aquarium working with our sea lions and each year provide medical and rehabilitation care to hundreds of stranded and sick sea lion pups along the California coast, with the hope of eventually returning the animals to the wild.”
California sea lions have recovered, thanks to sweeping protections like the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which has enabled hundreds of species to bounce back from the brink of extinction with support from recovery operations like CIMWI. Continued support and advocacy on behalf of federal and state-level protections for wildlife is critical to the continued survival of species like California sea lions.
Although we feel Ty’s loss deeply, his legacy and impact continue through our work. For Ty, and his wild kin, we pledge to assure the continuation of protections for sea lions and other animals through the Endangered Species Act. We will help animals in crisis through our work with rescue partners such TMMC and CIMWI in California. We will help people understand the value of wildlife. Please join us and raise your voice in support of the Endangered Species Act.