Cruz was permanently blinded after a gunshot wound left shrapnel
shards in his skull. Tanner was accused of stealing endangered
salmon for dinner.
But both of these California sea lions have found a fresh start
and a loving home at Shedd Aquarium.
"Thanks to our ongoing partnership with federal and state
officials in the Pacific Northwest, Shedd Aquarium was able to step
up and provide a home for these incredible animals in our
world-class marine mammal facility under the care from our
extraordinary team and health experts," says Ken Ramirez, Shedd's
executive vice president of animal care and training.
Sea lion pup Cruz was found abandoned last July on a beach and
taken in by The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif. Ramirez
says rescuers could tell the 1-year-old pup was having trouble
seeing. Once rescuers brought him back to the center, X-rays showed
the shrapnel in his skull.
"Because he is totally blind, there's no way an animal like that
could survive in the wild, fend off from predators, he couldn't
find food. So the only option was to find a home for him," Ramirez
After a month of intensive care and rehabilitation in Sausalito,
the National Marine Fisheries Services reached out to Shedd to ask
if they would be willing to take in a completely blind animal.
Ramirez went out to visit the pup and knew Chicago would be a good
new home for Cruz.
"I saw how trusting he was and realized we could probably adapt
our training program to accommodate him here," Ramirez says.
Cruz has adapted to his new environment at Shedd
"He learns very quickly, just like a blind person would if they
were exposed to an environment that was consistent for a period of
time. Once he learns the areas, he'll swim right at a rock or a
mountain but before he hits it, he'll turn. And it's because he
will have learned the space," Ramirez says.
Along with learning the spaces at Shedd, Cruz has another way to
help learn his new surroundings: his whiskers. According to
Ramirez, all sea lions use their whiskers to feel for fish but Cruz
has to use them in a much more sensitive way.
From the information provided by the X-ray and Cruz's wounds, it's
likely he was shot with a shotgun. Ramirez says rehabilitation of
animals like Cruz, and introducing the public to these animals'
stories, is an important part of Shedd's mission.
"Something we like to do here at Shedd is help connect people to
the animals we exhibit and our hope is that when someone sees an
animal like Cruz, or any of the animals we have here, that they
begin to have a better appreciation for them and then they don't do
senseless things," Ramirez says.
From shooting an animal for target practice to something as simple
as leaving your picnic litter on the beach, there are a lot of ways
people need to be more respectful of marine animals and their
environments. Ramirez says the team at Shedd knows not every
conservation story will ignite a national movement, but sometimes
it's the smaller stories that need a little more
"They're simple stories and you'd think we'd told those stories a
million times but Cruz reminds me that there's always going to be a
segment of the population that needs the real basic conservation
message. The need to care. The need to understand. And we hope Cruz
can help us tell that story more effectively," Ramirez
Just like Cruz, Tanner has been working to develop a trusting
relationship with Shedd's trainers. Although he is currently
working on simple instructions like "swim", trainers plan to
eventually include him in the show with the other sea lions.
Tanner is the third sea lion to find a home at Shedd since 2009.
All three sea lions were relocated from the Bonneville Dam area in
the Pacific Northwest through a partnership to help protect
endangered salmon populations.
Cruz and Tanner join the two male sea lions already part of the
Shedd family. Both of the new additions will be rotating on a
regular schedule from behind the scenes to the Grainger Sea Lion
Cove exhibit of the Abbott Oceanarium. Tanner began his public
appearances last week, while Cruz is expected to make his debut
either later this week or early next week.
Alaina is the digital content editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Chicago.
See more of Alaina's stories here.
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