Thank you for signing up to our email!

Now, before you leave, do you want to make a seal's day?

Another Gunshot Sea Lion Victim

X-rays reveal this yearling California sea lion named Whirlybird was shot in the face, causing permanent blindness in both eyes.

January 17, 2013

Whirlybird Makes His Windy City Debut!

On Wednesday, Whirlybird (now known as Cruz) made his public debut in his new digs at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago much to the delight of visitors. He also has a roommie - another California sea lion named Tanner. Enjoy the photo and video slideshow below of Whirlybird's travel via FedEx to Chicago and his new home.

Whirlybird Slide 01

Whirlybird was rescued by The Marine Mammal Center in July, 2012. He had been shot in the head and blinded as a result.

Whirlybird Slide 02

Whirlybird's X-ray shows the bullet fragments around his skull that have caused his blindness.

Whirlybird Slide 03

Whirlybird spent six months under the care of The Marine Mammal Center. A home was found for him at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Whirlybird Slide 04

Because of his injuries, Whirlybird was not able to return to the wild. Shelbi Stoudt oversees a training program to socialize him to humans.

Whirlybird Slide 05

Shelbi Stoudt teaches Whirlybird commands and rewards him with fish.

Whirlybird Slide 06

Staff veterinarian Dr. Bill Van Bonn prepares Whirlybird for transport to his new home at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Whirlybird Slide 07

Whirlybird is transported to Chicago, with the generous support of FedEx, which provides the Center with discounted rates for transporting animals.

Whirlybird Slide 08

Whirlybird settles into his new home at the Shedd Aquarium.

Read Whirlybird's story by clicking here.

If you would like to help provide meals for patients like Whirlybird, please click the donate button below.


 July 18, 2012

Whirlybird, sea lion, marine mammal center, gunshot
Whirlybird's eyes were damaged as a result of at least one gunshot.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Whirlybird will never live in the ocean again. Our team rescued him on July 2 from a beach in Santa Cruz near Corcoran Lagoon. He was found listless and unresponsive on a set of stairs leading to the beach. Rescuers noticed that something wasn't right with his eyes - his left was very cloudy and the right eye was missing. At our hospital, veterinarians gave the young California sea lion a full exam and began investigating what might be the cause of the trauma, looking for possible disease-related issues. Under general anesthesia, veterinarians took x-rays and immediately discovered the problem - metal fragments, lots of them, scattered throughout his head and behind the orbits. Simply put, he had been shot, and those metal fragments destroyed his right eye and damaged the other one so severely that he is now blind in both.

For now, Whirlybird is holding his own and his appetite is good, as he's able to eat close to 6 pounds of fish a day with the help of our animal care volunteers! While he has no other outstanding medical issues and is generally in good body condition, sending him back to the ocean would not be humane. Our team is working in conjunction with NMFS to find a good home for him where he can receive the proper care he'll need to live a long life.

Whirlybird, sea lion, marine mammal center, gunshot, x-ray
This radiograph shows large pieces of metal fragments located at the front of Whirlybird's head.
© The Marine Mammal Center

We see too many of these cases on a yearly basis. In 2011, we admitted 10 patients with gunshot wounds. and so far this year, we've already admitted 4, including Whirlybird. It is not known how long the fragments have been inside of Whirlybird or where he may have been shot. These are cases that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) try to investigate, but without witnesses making reports (and in most cases, traceable evidence) little can be done to find the perpetrator(s).

Sadly, over 3% of sea lions rescued by the Center each year show signs of previous gunshot wounds. From 2001 through 2011, the Center admitted 5,703 sea lion patients  and of those, 178 suffered from gunshot wounds! One large male sea lion named Silent Knight had been shot in the face and is now permanently blind. He lives at the San Francisco Zoo with another blind sea lion named Henry. Another case you can read about is Old Ray, a current sea lion patient on site at the Center that was also blinded as a result of gunshot wounds.


July 23, 2012

Whirlybird, sea lion, marine mammal center, gunshot
Whirlybird (resting in the middle of the pool deck) hangs out with Old Ray while Mr. Peppy eats his herring breakfast.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Whirlybird is tracking fish well with the help of animal care staff and volunteers at the hospital. He's eating close to 7 lb of fish a day and his roommies, Old Ray and Mr. Peppy, are keeping him company.

August 1, 2012

Whirlybird, sea lion, marine mammal center, gunshot
Whirlybird, a gunshot blinded sea lion, learns how to respond to human commands through target training in preparation for his new life at a zoo.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Whirlybird is progressing well each day and is now learning how to respond to humans through target training in preparation for his new life at a zoo. While we try to keep wild animals wild at our hospital so they can return to the ocean and not habituate to us, sea lions like Whirlybird that can't go back to the wild go through this training to help them adjust to their new surroundings and people! Check back here for updates on where Whirlybird's future home may be.


August 14, 2012

Whirlybird, sea lion, marine mammal center, gunshot
Stranding Manager Shelbi Stoudt takes Whirlybird, a gun shot wounded and now blind sea lion, through training paces during an afternoon feed on Aug. 14, 2012.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Today, Whirlybird and his current pen mate, Mr. Peppy, enjoyed a break from the foggy Marin Headlands skies and completed their daily training session with staff. We are continuing our coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service to find a zoo or aquarium for these two beautiful creatures. Meanwhile, great news for Old Ray (another gunshot wounded and now blind sea lion in our care), he's going to the Indianapolis Zoo where he'll get the right care and attention he needs to thrive!


October 5, 2012

Whirlybird, sea lion, marine mammal center, gunshot
A gunshot destroyed both of Whirlybird's eyes in 2012. During the past 10 years, the Center has admitted 178 sea lions that were found with shotgun wounds.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Whirlybird continues to respond wonderfully to his target training in preparation for his new home. Our stranding manager, Shelbi Stoudt, says that despite his blindness, Whirlybird is very enthusiastic and energetic! Check back here for the latest news on him.


November 8, 2012

Whirlybird does a great job of learning commands! Watch the video above to see him in action!


December 6, 2012

Whirlybird, sea lion, marine mammal center, gunshot
Whirlybird hangs out on the edge of his pool at The Marine Mammal Center
© The Marine Mammal Center

Wonderful news to report - Whirlybird has a new home! He will be traveling to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago late next week and will receive fantastic care from the veterinary staff there. In addition, he'll serve as an ambassador sea lion inspiring visitors that have a visual impairment! Now that's something to smile about!



Numbers you should know to report a marine mammal crime, including those that are victims of gunshots, entanglements or other injuries:

  • The Marine Mammal Center: (415) 289-SEAL (7325)
  • California Department of Fish and Game: 1-888-DFG-CALTIP (888-334-2258)
  • NOAA law enforcement hotline: 1-800-853-1964

  • It is illegal to harm or harass a marine mammal under the 1972 marine mammal protection act. Violators can be prosecuted and fines and even jail time imposed for convictions.


Click to subscribe to our RSS feed!



Collect 'em all!

Adopt-a-Seal® of the Month Club!

Adopt-a-Seal of the Month
Summer Camp

Camp Sea Quest is for curious kids!

Sign up!
Camp Sea Quest
Be The Hero!

Use your super powers and join monthly today!

Elephant seal hero