Orphaned California Sea Lions Have a Forever Home at Brookfield Zoo


In 2018, two California sea lions were found stranded in different spots along the Pacific Coast. That started both of these orphans on a journey that has led to their recent arrival at Brookfield Zoo where they've finally found a forever home.

The two approximately two-year-old female sea lions arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on September 18, 2019, thanks to the generosity of FedEx, who coordinated their travel and flew them from California to Illinois. Zoo staff has named one of the sea lions Carolyn, after the FedEx agent who assisted in making the travel arrangements. FedEx staff named the second female Sabiena (pronounced Sa-bean-ah), in honor of their Chicago team member who is also the company’s number one volunteer in the community.

FedEx team members unload two California sea lions, who were orphaned and are now making their home at Brookfield Zoo.

“We are thrilled to be able to safely deliver Carolyn and Sabiena to their new home, and we are so proud the rescued animals are named after two of our outstanding team members,” said Jenny Robertson, vice president, Corporate Communications, FedEx. “This special shipment is part of our FedEx Cares “Delivering for Good” initiative where we use our global network to deliver precious cargo where it’s needed most.”

Sabiena was discovered in May 2018 at Westward Beach in Malibu, California, and rescued by staff from Marine Mammal Care Center (MMCC) in San Pedro. She was found to have multiple puncture wounds and fishhooks in her body and one of her eyes, which led to a ruptured cornea. She was also extremely malnourished, weighing just 31 pounds (an animal her age should weigh about 100 pounds). Due to the limited vision in her remaining eye, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) deemed Sabiena un-releasable and began looking for her new home.

Six months later and about 90 miles away in Dana Point, California, Carolyn was found dehydrated, malnourished (weighing just 46 pounds), and seemed unable to fend for herself. She was rescued by staff from Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) in Laguna Beach. The then-one-year-old had lacerations on one of her flippers and chest from a possible boat propeller or a bite from a shark or an adult sea lion. In addition, x-rays revealed that Carolyn had 30 to 40 stones in her stomach, which is presumed to be why she was not eating. Once the stones passed, she started eating again and was released back to the wild in January 2019.

However, just a month later she was found again at the harbor looking emaciated. Back at PMMC she started eating again from staff. Another exam revealed she had cataract in her right eye. At that time, NMFS officials determined she would not be able to survive on her own, and she too, needed a forever home.

Dr. Michael Adkesson, vice president of clinical medicine, positions Carolyn in the CT scanner at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital.

The National Marine Fisheries Service reach out to Chicago Zoological Society to see if Brookfield Zoo could be that new home and we not only had the room but also the experience needed to care for them. The marine mammal staff at Brookfield Zoo has cared for pinnipeds with similar backgrounds, including Josie, who was abandoned on her birthday by her mother. She has since given birth to two pups, Lucy and Charger, the latter of which was just born in June 2019.

Before making their journey to Brookfield Zoo, Carolyn and Sabiena were introduced to each other at PMCC. In addition, Chicago Zoological Society animal care specialists flew out to California to meet both sea lions and get familiar with each of their distinct personalities as well as accompanied the animals back to Illinois aboard the FedEx cargo plane.

Chicago Zoological Society marine mammal staff, Mairim Martinez (left) and Beth Miller, with two California sea lions who will be making their new home at Brookfield Zoo

Following a complete physical examination at the zoo’s Animal Hospital as well as getting acclimated to their behind-the-scenes quarters and the marine mammal animal care team, Carolyn and Sabiena are expected to make their debut to zoo guests at Pinniped Point in mid-October. Eventually, they may be introduced to Brookfield Zoo’s other pinnipeds that included four male California sea lions, ranging from two months to 18 years old; four female California sea lions ranging in age from two to 29 years old; a male gray seal; and two female gray seals.

Because Carolyn and Sabiena were born in the wild, they are extremely valuable genetically to the North American zoo population. California sea lions are managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Population Management Plan (PMP), a program that ensures the sustainability of a healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied population for the long-term survival of the zoo population. The Sea Lion PMP is managed by Mairim Martinez, senior animal care specialist for CZS. In this role, Martinez is responsible for the California Sea Lion Studbook, a record of the species’ pedigree and the demographic history of each individual in the accredited North American zoo population.

Posted: 9/24/2019 3:54:59 PM by Sean Keeley

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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