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.
See a slideshow of Cruz and Tanner below
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 says.
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 quickly.
“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 attention.
“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 says.
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.