On an Abbott Oceanarium visit, you might see California sea lions Laguna or Cruz zooming around Grainger Sea Lion Cove. Other times you might see Tanner stretched out for a nap. Even when you can’t see them, you can hear these aquatic predators throughout the Pacific Northwest exhibit when they start vocalizing—and living up to their common name. These guys get along great, but they’d get testy if there were a female to trigger their territoriality, so Shedd’s colony of sea lions remains all male.
Estimated to be in his 20s, Tanner was rescued after he was seen eating endangered salmon at the Bonneville Dam. He was marked for easy recognition in case he returned to the dam, the mark on his back reading “CO 11”—“CO” for Columbia (River), and “11” marking that he was the 11th sea lion removed from the area by wildlife officials. Despite several attempts to relocate this persistent salmon-loving sea lion, Tanner continued to return to the dam. He got a second chance at life when he was rescued and came to Shedd Aquarium in the spring of 2012. Here at Shedd, he is mild-mannered and plays well with his sea lion companions. When he is in his public-facing home in the Abbott Oceanarium, you may catch him lounging on the rocks, stretched out for a nap.
In 2012, when Cruz was about a year old and living in the waters off Santa Cruz, California, someone shot him—an illegal but not uncommon practice on the West Coast, where the numerous marine mammals are perceived as competitors by some commercial fishermen. The pup was found washed up on a beach, with gunshot wounds in his face and eyes.
His life was saved at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, but the now totally blind pup needed a permanent home where he could receive lifelong care. Shedd was the perfect match, with the facilities, expert care takers and sea lion buddies for the youngster.
Using his whiskers and keen directional hearing, Cruz quickly learned his way around the sea lion areas, apparently mapping the topography in his head. Just as the pup adapted to his new surroundings, his care takers adapted their methods to work with a sightless animal. Instead of hand signals and other visual cues, they rely entirely on audible and tactile cues: a training whistle, a rattle target, a gentle touch and, of course, words. Cruz’s lack of vision hasn’t slowed him down, and he interacts and holds his own with the other sea lions. He also takes part in one of the animal spotlights each day.
Rescued and rehabilitated animals get a second chance at life. Laguna was lucky enough to get a third. On Jan. 9, 2013, he was found stranded and malnourished on Laguna Beach on the California coast. He was in the first wave of more than 1,400 starving sea lion pups that overwhelmed California rescue centers that year in what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called an unusual mortality event, or UME. Many pups died. But after intensive care, Laguna was healthy enough to be released March 21 with a bright orange flipper ID tag. Six weeks later, however, he had stranded again.
Because of the flipper tag, rescuers could see that the emaciated pup had been rescued before, access his medical history and make the determination that he most likely would not survive if returned to the ocean again. During the UME, Shedd let the network of California rescue centers know that we could provide a home to a young male sea lion if one could not be released. Once Laguna had gone through rehabilitation again, he was on a jet bound for Chicago. Despite a difficult start in life, Laguna is healthy, a quick learner and a mischievous playmate for Cruz.
Charger, a 3-year-old male sea lion, arrived at Shedd in August 2022 from his former home at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C. Charger is the son of Tanner and was born at a zoological facility accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). At about 230 pounds at the time of his arrival, Charger is still growing! Male sea lions can grow to about 1,000 pounds. He shows early signs of confidence even as he explores his new environment and caretakers.
Kenney is the youngest sea lion in Shedd’s history, arriving at just 3 months old in August 2022. He was sired by Charger, which means that Shedd has three generations of sea lions in our herd! The pup was rejected by his mother, causing him to need hand-rearing for the best chance of survival.
Shedd’s animal care team continues to provide hands-on care to ensure he meets important sea lion milestones like growth as he receives critical nutrients from formula until he is weaned and introduced to fish for the first time. Additional milestones will also involve socialization with his caretakers at Shedd, introduction to other sea lions at the aquarium and participating in early training and enrichment sessions.
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