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Sea Lion Bubble Mystery

 Sea Lion Bubble Mystery


 June 5, 2013 - Update!

© Hogle Zoo

Today we have some good news on Sarow, re-named "Rocky" by his trainers at Utah's Hogle Zoo. Here's an update from one of Sarow, er, Rocky's Pinniped Keepers in Utah:

“We renamed him Rocky (Rocky of our new exhibit area Rocky Shores). He's doing wonderfully, has learned over 20 behaviors, participates in our demonstrations, and has his best friend Maverick, a 2 year old sea lion, to keep him company." (In the picture above Sarow / Rocky is on the right).

While it is most definitely our goal to release all of our patients back to the wild, for those who need further medical care, we like to hear they're doing well!

May 4, 2012

Sarow has a new home and a new name! We received word today from the Hogle County Zoo in Utah that Sarow arrived safe and sound via FedEx and was already swimming in his new pool and checking out his new digs. He's been re-named "Rocky" and is now hanging out with an 850-pound blind sea lion named "Big Guy" that was rescued by Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. The newly built exhibit called Rocky Shores houses another sea lion named "Maverick," some eagles and even a polar bear. 

Radiograph of sea lion patient "Sarow" shows a gas bubble in his head (dark circular mass in the center.)
© The Marine Mammal Center


February 8, 2012

While Sarow continues to respond positively to his rehabilitative care here at the Center, veterinarians have determined that he will not be able to survive on his own in the wild due to the extent of his mysterious medical condition. Currently, the Center is looking at finding a home for Sarow at either a zoo or an aquarium. It is there that he will be able to live out a long and productive life while receiving long-term care.

October 5, 2011

On October 4, 2011, volunteers from our San Luis Obispo operations rescued a young California sea lion that had stranded on Morro Rock in Morro Bay, CA.  At the hospital, animal care volunteers and veterinary staff noticed something unusual about him; he wobbled as he walked on land! During the admit exam, veterinarians noticed that Sarow, as he was named, had a pellet in his head as a result of a gunshot. Additionally, they noticed that he had a gas bubble that formed near his brain. Was the gunshot wound responsible for causing the bubble making him wobbly on land? Marine mammals, such as seals, sea lions, dolphins and whales, have an incredible ability to dive deep depths (sometimes as much as 1,500 feet) and resurface easily - regulating the air pressure that allows them to not become injured or sick from such actions. Humans cannot do this naturally! They have to wear diving suits and oxygen tanks to overcome "the bends" when they resurface after such dives.



It's too early to tell if the bullet was the cause of this gas bubble formation, or if something in the environment caused this. For now, Sarow continues to do well eating herring and is under medication for pneumonia.


Dr. Bill Van Bonn and "Ocean Mysteries" host Jeff Corwin, examine sea lion patient Sarow at The Marine Mammal Center
© The Marine Mammal Center

Related: New Bubble Condition Documented in Marine Mammals 

In 2009, another sea lion patient had a similar problem. Cha cha had a build up of gas bubbles in his head too. Cha cha was the first reported case of this medical condition, and scientists from the Center published a paper about this medical oddity. Cha cha was able to be released back into the wild because he was able to exhibit full functionality at the hospital despite a bit of a wobble on land.

Additionally, Woodshole Institute recently published a report about a similar medical condition found in some dolphins. The Marine Mammal Center contributed to that study having found those bubbles in these dolphins during post mortem exams. The question researchers have is if environmental factors have altered the oceans resulting in this abnormality.

Related: Help Other patients Like Sarow

You can help other marine mammal patients like Sarow by Adopting-a-Seal today! Check out our newest adoptee - Silent Knight!


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