X-rays reveal this yearling California sea lion named Whirlybird was shot in the face, causing permanent blindness in both eyes.
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.
Read Whirlybird's story by clicking here.
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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.
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 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 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
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 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
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.