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Cappy Finally Sees the Sea!

Once blind, a young elephant seal called Cappy illustrates the dedication and advanced care our pinniped patients receive.

October 22, 2013

Everybody loves a story when someone beats the odds, and in this case a young elephant seal did just that, thanks to folks like you!

Last June, Cappy was found on a beach looking lethargic and underweight. Once back at our hospital our veterinarians discovered that Cappy was blind in both eyes due to cataracts.

After four months of rehabilitative care, including cataract surgery that gave Cappy full vision in his left eye, and rigorous testing that proved he could compete for, and catch, live fish, Cappy was deemed healthy enough to return to his ocean home.

Your donation enables us to provide expert medical treatment and care to animals like Cappy. Give patients like Cappy a second chance today!

Cappy comes out of his carrier and starts to look around his new surroundings at Año Nuevo State Reserve.
© The Marine Mammal Center

Cappy was transported to Año Nuevo State Reserve where he could be released in an area frequented by large numbers of elephant seals. After his carrier was opened at Bight Beach, he heard his elephant seal buddies at nearby North Point. He quickly made his way into the surf and was last seen swimming off in the direction of the other elephant seals.

Cappy swims in the surf, happy to be home again.
© The Marine Mammal Center


Thanks to the hard work of our volunteers, expert treatment by our veterinarians and financial support from our caring donors, we get to share this happy ending with you! You can help us create more success stories for animals that deserve a second chance. Donate to give other seals like Cappy a second chance.

October 9, 2013

Cappy, a Northern Elephant Seal, had cataracts in both eyes
© The Marine Mammal Center


Last June, a young, male elephant seal was spotted alone on Fisherman’s Beach, a popular dog-walking beach in San Luis Obispo County. Not only was this highly populated area a bad place for a wild animal to be located, but "Cappy" looked underweight, malnourished and lethargic.

Our trained volunteer rescue team brought Cappy to The Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands, where he was given an admit exam. There were no obvious external problems at first and his test results were ok, but as soon as our animal care crews tried to feed him, they knew there was a problem – they soon discovered that poor Cappy couldn’t see! Our veterinarians quickly confirmed that he had cataracts in both eyes!

Dr. Greg Frankfurter prepares Cappy for his cataract surgery
© The Marine Mammal Center

Cataracts are a clouding of the lens inside the eye, reducing vision and often leading to blindness. They are most commonly a result of the aging process, but can be caused by a number of other factors, such as nutritional deficiencies, excessive exposure to UV radiation, environmental toxins or pollutants, or congenital problems, i.e. problems that started before birth.

Because Cappy is so young (a weaner is less than one year old), it is likely that the cause of his cataracts is congenital.


We contacted veterinary ophthalmologist (and great friend of the Center) Dr. Kate Freeman to help! With support from our veterinary team, Dr. Freeman led two separate operations to remove the cataracts from Cappy’s eyes. This close up photo at right, taken through a microscope, shows the suturing of Cappy's cornea after his cataract surgery. A couple of air bubbles are visible under the cornea, and the iris is visible under that.

Microscope view of Cappy's eye during surgery
© The Marine Mammal Center

Removing the cataracts from Cappy’s eyes involved a highly advanced process known as phacoemulsification, which uses sound waves to break down the lens of the eyes and "emulsify" it. Once broken down, the emulsified lens is extracted from the lens capsule.

The surgery was a success and Cappy now has vision restored in his left eye! It is still early days, but our veterinarians suspect that he may never regain full vision in his right eye. However, it was important to remove both cataracts to prevent future problems such as lens luxation (when the lens dislocates), which causes inflammation and can be very painful. He is eating well and getting regular eyedrop treatments from the volunteer animal care crews.

Elephant seals can dive to depths of more than 5,000 feet (almost a mile!) and rely much more on their vibrissae, commonly known as whiskers, than their eyesight as they hunt for food. Cappy’s impaired vision puts him at a slight disadvantage in the wild, but it shouldn’t be a hindrance to his eventual release.

Cappy is currently doing very well and preparations are underway for his release. He has passed a live fish test, one of the most important ways of determining an animal’s readiness to survive in the wild. He should be ready to return to his ocean home within the next couple of weeks.

Cappy gets eyedrops after his cataract surgery
© The Marine Mammal Center

Cappy and other patients at The Marine Mammal Center are benefitting from the generous donation of 1,000 reusable gloves from Casabella, a maker of kitchen and cleaning products. Hygiene is of utmost importance at a hospital such as The Marine Mammal Center, so this donation goes a long way toward helping us give our patients the best possible care. The gloves can also be washed and reused, helping us to reduce waste and carry out our operations in a sustainable manner.

Donate to give other seals like Cappy a second chance




Learn about Northern elephant seals

Read Sea Lions South of the Border Get Cataract Surgeries!

Find out more in Science Publications from The Marine Mammal Center


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