Rescued Sea Lion Finds New Home at the Indianapolis Zoo

Ray, a rescued California sea lion, has a new home at the Indianapolis Zoo.

California is a long way from the Indianapolis Zoo, but after a tough start in life, Ray the sea lion is settling in at his new home in the Crossroads of America.

Ray is a rescued animal from California with a very troubled past. Ray comes from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, which had to rescue him not once, but twice, from the waters off the coast of California. He originally came to the Center on November 15, 2011, when he was found at Moss Landing Harbor. Clearly ill, his abnormal water-drinking behavior suggested he had leptospirosis, a bacterial infection of the kidneys that is often deadly if not treated.

With a round of medication and some fattening up, the Center’s staff hoped he would be as good as new. However, during his check-up, they found something disturbing. Radiographs of Ray’s head and torso showed he had suffered not one but two previous gunshot attacks, which were identifiable because bullets and shotgun pellets were still lodged in his skull and body. Although it is against federal law to harm marine mammals, they are sometimes attacked and shot by humans, particularly by commercial fishermen when sea lions interfere in their nets.

Ray was lucky to be alive, and after treatment, he was returned back to his ocean home. Sadly, he was found again at Moss Landing Harbor on March 16, 2012, with injuries to his mouth and right eye. At the Center’s hospital, veterinarians discovered that the injury to his eye was a result of yet another gunshot wound he sustained and that he had no vision in that eye. Additionally, he developed a lens opacity that left him with limited vision in his left eye.

However, despite his wounds, Ray was in good body condition and ate well–even though he required a little guidance to find the fish that were put before him at meal time. On June 8, Ray’s bad right eye and the cataract in his left eye were surgically removed under general anesthesia with the assistance of a team of approximately eight veterinarians.

Working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), it was determined that the Indianapolis Zoo would be a wonderful permanent home for him where he’ll be safe and receive the proper care he needs. While at the Marine Mammal Center, Ray also gained a tremendous amount of weight and now tips the scales at a healthy 300 pounds—a more than 90-pound weight gain in approximately six months.

After a cross-country flight on a FedEx cargo plane accompanied by the Zoo’s Vice President of Veterinary Services, Dr. Jeff Proudfoot, and Marine Mammals Area Manager, Tom Granberry, Ray arrived at the Indianapolis Zoo on August 23. He recently completed the usual 30-day quarantine for new Zoo animals and has now taken up residence in the Zoo’s sea lion and seal exhibit located just outside the Oceans building.

Visitors can now view Ray as he continues to explore his new surroundings at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Comparing him in size and features to Diego, the Indianapolis Zoo’s 435-pound male sea lion that was born at the Zoo eight years ago, his keepers are estimating that Ray is approximately 4 or 5 years old. In fact, the Center’s name for this sea lion was “Old Ray,” but since he’s really just a young “pup” in sea lion years, staff at the Indianapolis Zoo simply call him Ray.

Although his overall health appears good at the moment, rescued animals, especially ones with a sad history like Ray’s, always present unique challenges for the keepers and veterinarians. Ray looks a bit different than other sea lions—he bears the scars of his past—but the Zoo’s marine mammal staff is pleased to welcome the newcomer to the group. While the rapidly-growing young adult sea lion, Diego, is currently keeping walrus, Aurora, company in her exhibit, Ray is befriending his new exhibit mates—female sea lion, Marcy and fellow rescued residents, gray seal ,Pepper, and harbor seal, Tak.

Contributing writers: Marine Mammal Center staff; Judy Gagen, Indianapolis Zoo

Jennifer Fields

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