Thank you for signing up to our email!

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

Silent Knight


Silent Knight: Gunshot Wounded Sea Lion Victim


Silent Knight (right) and Henry during feeding time at the San Francisco Zoo on May 4, 2012. Both pinnipeds are doing well; Silent Knight now weighs nearly 700 lb.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Nearly a year after Silent Knight and henry arrived at the San Francisco Zoo, both were spotted looking very healthy and active druing a recent feeding!

5/6/11 Updated:  Silent Knight and Henry now have a new home at the San Francisco Zoo! 

Silent Knight (left) and Henry, two blind California sea lions, hang out at The Marine Mammal Center's cetacean pool as they go through training that will prepare them for their new home at the San Francisco Zoo.
© Gwendolyn Tornatore

Today, both Silent Knight and his new buddy Henry, made their public debuts at the San Francisco Zoo's newly renovated $125,000 sea lion exhibit that includes an 85,000 gallon pool. Members of the press, as well as supporters from the Center and the zoo, watched as Henry swam circles around Silent Knight who was resting on one of the "islands." Later, both sea lions were called over to the feeding area where animal care experts from both organizations demonstrated "target training" which allows zookeepers to communciate with the animals through verbal commands followed by rewards of fish.

Silent Knight was shot and blinded in Sausalito in December of 2010.  He captured the hearts of thousands after The Marine Mammal Center rescued and then nurtured him back to health. Henry came to the Center by way of the North Coast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City, California.

The Center was able to care for these patients and help them regain their strength in order to prepare them for transfer to a new facility. The Center and the San Francisco Zoo have enjoyed a collaborative partnership for many years.

The Marine Mammal Center extends its deepest gratitude to the San Francisco Zoo for opening its doors to not one, but two marine mammals. Thanks to the Zoo, Silent Knight and Henry will share a peaceful spot at the zoo where they can both serve as ambassadors of wildlife to the public.

The San Francisco Zoo is open daily!

3/19/11 Update: It's official, blind sea lions, Silent Knight and Henry, will have a new home at the San Francisco Zoo!

The San Francisco Zoological Society and The Marine Mammal Center (the Center) are thrilled to announce that blind sea lions, Silent Knight and Henry, will officially join the San Francisco Zoo family. The hope is that two pinnipeds will make their debut this May in the refurbished sea lion exhibit, near the Zoo’s South American Tropical Forest building.

Silent Knight is the famed sea lion that was rescued on December 8, 2010, in Sausalito, California. When found, he had severe head trauma and his right eye was destroyed, due to what appears to be a gunshot wound. The Center says that Silent Knight is doing extremely well, but he is completely blind and cannot be released into the wild.

“This is the best possible outcome for Silent Knight,” said Tanya Peterson, executive director and president of the San Francisco Zoo. “The Zoo and the Center have always worked collaboratively when it comes to meeting the needs of animals that are injured, non-releasable or require short-term housing. The main goal is always the same…to preserve the life of these beautiful animals.”

The San Francisco Zoological Society is working with the Center on the logistical arrangements necessary to transfer Silent Knight and his companion, Henry. Additionally, zookeepers visit the duo weekly to learn and better understand their personalities and conduct target training exercises.

“We’re extremely pleased that Silent Knight and Henry will receive a permanent home at the San Francisco Zoo;” said Jeff Boehm, executive director at The Marine Mammal Center. “We hope that Silent Knight’s story of how he came into the Center’s care, with significant shotgun wounds to his face and eyes, will highlight the occurrence of these horrific crimes and ultimately inspire people to care more about these animals, and inspire greater stewardship of their ocean home”

The Zoo will host a debut event once Silent Knight and Henry have moved and settled into their new home.

2/23/11 Update: Silent Knight and Henry - A Possible Collaborative Solution Underway

Because Silent Knight is blind and will not be released into the wild, the Center has been carefully preparing him for his eventual transfer to another facility, such as a zoo or an aquarium, once one has been identified. Discussions are still underway and if all goes well, one may have been identified!

“The Marine Mammal Center has a  wonderful relationship with the San Francisco Zoo and together, we feel this could be another positive collaboration and a great outcome for Silent Knight and Henry;" said Jeff Boehm, executive director at The Marine Mammal Center. "The SF Zoo is discussing with their advisory board upgrading an existing exhibit to accommodate these two animals and we look forward to hearing more about this. As with all of our patients that cannot be released back into the wild, we take direction from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on next steps for finding them new homes."

Typically, Center staff and volunteers try to interact as minimally as possible with the patients in order to ensure that they will keep their instincts intact for their return to the ocean. By contrast, Silent Knight has a very different treatment program at the Center. Recently, staff and volunteers began to hand-feed him. Although he was slow to find the fish at first, he is eating very well now and is typically very gentle when taking the fish. In the last few days, Silent Knight started target training with his feeds. Target training is essentially a reinforcement behavior. In this case, Silent Knight is being trained to associate the kong object as friendly. When he touches the kong and holds still, he is rewarded with a fish.

This foundation of behavioral training will greatly assist Silent Knight’s handlers once he is placed into his new permanent home in the future.

About Henry:

Henry is another California sea lion. He stranded on 5/27/10 at Trinidad State Beach in Humboldt County.  He was suffering from malnutrition and blindness in both eyes and was admitted to the North Coast Marine Mammal Center at only 61 pounds. The cause of the blindness is unknown and is believed to be permanent. Henry has been alone since October at the North Coast Marine Mammal Center, other than when he was at the Center for a brief stay and spent some time with Blackwolf as a roommate. 

This week, Henry was transferred to Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz, in part to target train him to eat comfortably outside of his pool on a deck (similar to a zoo or aquarium environment), and also to give researchers a rare opportunity to study cognitive behavior in blind animals. Due to the animal’s permanent blindness it’s unlikely Henry would survive if released back into his natural environment. NMFS and the Center are currently looking into options for a permanent home to house both Henry and Silent Knight together.

2/2/11 Update:  Silent Knight Learns a New Way to Eat

In order to prepare for Silent Knight's eventual transfer to another facility, Center staff and volunteers are changing the way that Silent Knight is fed each day in order to prepare him for a new life at a new facility when the time comes for him to leave our hospital. Specially trained staff and volunteers are now hand feeding him through the fence surrounding his pen. At feeding time, they tap on Silent Knight's bucket of fish to alert him of their presence and within seconds he eagerly comes to the special feed station that is set up. He is very gentle when he takes the fish from their hands. Once he eats all of the fish, a verbal command of "all done" is given. Despite this warning that the meal is over, Silent Knight usually lingers hoping for more fish to come his way!

In fact, Silent Knight is eating so well that his feed has been reduced to 2.75 kilograms (6.05 lb) three times daily as he has now reached an appropriate weight for his size. His new weight is now 157 kilograms (345.4 lb), up from a prior weight of 142.5 kilograms (313.5 lb) on 1/11/11.

1/21/11 Update:  Follow Your Ears to Find Silent Knight

Today, the veterinary team at The Marine Mammal Center further evaluated Silent Knight’s recovery and progress. His appetite continues to strengthen, and he is currently eating 8 ¼ pounds of herring, three times per day. His daily ration of nearly 25 pounds of fish is helping him regain his strength, and interested visitors to the Center can easily find him just by listening for his rather loud bark!

Silent Knight continues to heal from the physical trauma and infection, resulting from a devastating shotgun blast, which shattered his jawbone and permanently rendered him blind. “Though Silent Knight remains blind, he finds and eats his fish relatively easily, within the confines of his pool enclosure. He uses his strong sense of smell above water and his sensitive vibrissa (whiskers) below,” explained Sophie Guarasci, a veterinary science assistant at the Center. “He can also be observed eagerly waiting at his gate, each time he hears volunteers arriving with his meal,” added Guarasci.

Silent Knight likes to laze in the full sunshine and has successfully concluded his final course of antibiotic medication (doxycycline). NOAA and the Center are in talks with various zoos and aquariums that have expressed interest in providing Silent Knight a permanent home.



1/11/11 Update:  Silent Knight:  Today’s X-Rays and Examination Show He is Beginning to Heal

Today, the Center’s veterinary science staff conducted a series of procedures to re-evaluate Silent Knight’s recovery and progress. Several veterinarians formed the team that sedated and examined Silent Knight:  Dr. Bill Van Bonn, director of veterinary science; Dr. Vanessa Fravel, veterinary intern; and Dr. Sophie Dennison, consultant veterinary radiologist, and former veterinary intern at the Center. 

Once Silent Knight was sedated, doctors took radiographs of his head. "The X-ray images show that Silent Knight’s gunshot wounds are healing, his remaining teeth are intact and healthy, and his shattered jawbone has begun to heal,” said Dr. Bill Van Bonn, director of veterinary science at The Marine Mammal Center. The team worked quickly and carefully, taking samples of Silent Knight’s urine and blood, and monitoring readings of other vital signs, such as heart rate and pulse. They also examined Silent Knight’s left eye which had a large corneal ulcer. “It’s tough to know whether the corneal ulcer was there due to the gunshot, or if it occurred before the trauma,” said Dr. Vanessa Fravel, veterinary intern at the Center. “In any case, today’s examination and staining procedure showed that his ulcer has diminished nicely. Silent Knight is responding well to antibiotics,” added Fravel.

Next, Dr. Sophie Dennison conducted an ocular sonogram to further determine the cause and likelihood of Silent Knight’s permanent blindness in his left eye. “The structure of the eye, and the bone around it, both appear to be intact - but there is still severe trauma to the optic nerve,” concluded Dr. Dennison.

Once the team was finished, Silent Knight regained consciousness without complications. He continues to recover at the Center. In fact, Silent Knight has gained back much of the weight he had lost. Originally he weighed 337 pounds, and then lost about 40 pounds due to his inability to eat, dropping down to 297 pounds. Today, Silent Knight is gaining back his strength and is able to eat three times per day. He weighs in at a healthier 313.5 pounds.

“He’s right on target as far as his overall health and weight are concerned,” said Dr. Van Bonn. “He’s an excellent patient, given his circumstances.”

The Humane Society of the United States and The Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust are offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for illegally shooting Silent Knight. 

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the NOAA 24 hour enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or NOAA Special Agent Nicholas Call at (707) 575-6075, or NOAA Special Agent Dan Torquemada at (707) 575-6072. Callers may remain anonymous.

1/4/11 Update - Silent Knight Responding Well!

Silent Knight continues to respond well to veterinarians and volunteers that are providing care for him daily. He seems to enjoy sunning himself in his pen! Veterinarians plan to examine him under sedation next week to further evaluate his health progress.

Update 12/30/10 Silent Knight gets a letter!



12/28/10 Update - Veterinarians conclude that Silent Knight is blind

Despite encouraging signs of improvement, on Monday, December 27,  veterinarians re-examined Silent Knight and concluded that he is completely blind. The next step is to see if there is a zoo or aquarium available that can provide a long-term home for him as he will not be able to be released back out in to the wild. While wild sea lions that are born blind or gradually lose their sight have the possibility of adapting to that blindness and surviving in the ocean, adult sea lions like Silent Knight, who have relied on their vision all of their lives, are not so fortunate. Placing a blind animal like him back into the wild would be cruel as he would be certain to suffer another injury and starvation in the ocean. The next best option for him is to be at an aquarium or zoo where he can receive the proper care needed to thrive. The Marine Mammal Center and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are actively seeking a zoo, aquarium or other facility that can take care of him. Many animals placed in facilities like these thrive and live long and healthy lives. 

Silent Knight, like Sgt. Nevis, another sea lion who was shot in the head earlier this year, serves as a story to exemplify the realities of what happens to marine mammals at the hands of thoughtless and cruel people. We hope you, our readers and supporters, pause to think about these animals and consider ways you can help them and stop these unthinkable acts through advocacy, volunteering with places like The Marine Mammal Center, and supporting organizations by making a donation.

Many sea lions that are rescued because of injury or illness (in many cases as a result of negative human interactions) have been placed in zoos and aquariums around the country, and many of these facilities are at capacity. If there is not a zoo, aquarium, or other facility available for Silent Knight to be placed, the Center may have no other choice than to humanely euthanize him. All efforts right now are focused on caring for him and finding him a new home.

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

Watch a video of Silent Knight feeding in his pool.


What Happened?

On December 8, 2010, rescuers from The Marine Mammal Center received a report of a large male California sea lion looking listless on a beach near the Golden Gate Market in Sausalito. Silent Knight, as he was named by rescuers because of his “princely” stance, was spotted suffering from severe head trauma. His right eye was destroyed, with tissue protruding where the eyeball should have been, due to what appeared to be a shotgun wound.

Using large nets and herding boards, it took rescuers nearly an hour to successfully corral the 336 pound, 7-foot-long mammal into an extra large transport carrier. Silent Knight was carefully delivered to the Center, and safely placed into a holding pen for evaluation. He then received an admit exam at the Center’s on-site hospital for a series of tests to determine the extent of his injuries.

The next day staff veterinarians took several cranial radiograph images. The x-rays revealed the rescuers suspicions the night before were true; Silent Knight had at least 5 buckshot metal fragments lodged in his head. Damage also extended to his mouth and jaw. In fact, it was determined that Silent Knight had already lost several teeth prior to his rescue, and another while under doctor’s care.

“It’s a terrible thing to shoot any creature for no good reason. But, what many don’t realize, is that these strong and resilient marine mammals don’t always die as a result. Instead, they suffer needlessly and terribly – sometimes drowning at sea, or suffer a slow and painful death either from infection and/or starvation, since often they can no longer dive, catch, or eat food,” explained Dr. Bill Van Bonn, Director of Veterinary Science at The Marine Mammal Center.

Sadly, a fair number of seals are rescued by the Center, showing signs of previous gunshot wounds that have since healed over. Silent Knight makes the ninth marine mammal the Center has taken in this year as a result of injuries consistent with gunshot wounds.  In 2009, that number was at a staggering 19! One of the most recent gunshot wound victims rescued was a California sea lion named Sgt. Nevis.  Read his story here. It is illegal to harm or harrass a marine mammal under the 1972 marine mammal protection act. Violators can be prosecuted and fines and even jail time imposed for convictions.

Over the coming days, the veterinarian team will continue to closely monitor Silent Knight, and try to keep him as comfortable as possible.

Numbers you should know to report a marine mammal in distress 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  


COVID Response

Focusing on safety in our core work.

Adopt a Seal

Your symbolic adoption helps our patients thrive.

Our Commitment

Expanding work on social and environmental equity.