Blog: Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare

Rescued California Sea Lions Get New Lease on Life

Rescued California Sea Lions at Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo recently welcomed the arrival of three California sea lions, including two pups rescued after being found stranded and undernourished off the coast of California. The new pups join another rescue, Tanner, who has his own unique story.

The male pups, named Kanuk and Kodiak, are estimated to be around 1 year old and were deemed nonreleasable by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries because they were found starved and malnourished several times by rescue workers. To date, more than 3,000 sea lion pups have been rescued off the coast of California due to unusually warmer water that has forced sea lion moms to stray from their pups in search of food.

“The number of sea lion pups stranded on the coast of California is alarming," said Rita Stacey, curator of marine mammals at the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which operates Brookfield Zoo. "We are committed to leveraging our expertise to continue to assist with rescue efforts and are honored to be able to provide Kanuk and Kodiak a second lease on life after it was determined that they would be unlikely to survive on their own in the wild.”

Earlier this summer, two Chicago Zoological Society marine mammal staff spent a week at The Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California, assisting with rescue efforts in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries, other rehabilitation centers in California, and animal care professionals from zoos and aquariums across the country. CZS staff were called on to assist with these efforts as they have expertise in successfully hand rearing pups in the past, including Josie, a 5-year-old sea lion who arrived at Brookfield Zoo when she was a pup in 2010.


After several attempts to release Kanuk and Kodiak to the wild were unsuccessful, Brookfield Zoo and Oceans of Fun at the Milwaukee County Zoo (who have a long history of collaboration) offered to provide the pups permanent homes with the proper long-term care that they need. Both pups were transported to Brookfield Zoo on July 21 to clear a routine quarantine and receive medical clearance from the veterinary team. Kanuk is currently residing at Brookfield Zoo on loan from Oceans of Fun enabling the pups to remain together as they transition into their new environment.

"We, like the Chicago Zoological Society, are greatly concerned about the number of pups stranding along the California coastline as many will not be able to survive on their own," said Shelley Ballmann, president of Oceans of Fun. "Because of the long-term effect multiple years of strandings may have on the wild sea lion population, we are committed to collaborating with the Society on rescue, research, and breeding efforts.” One of CZS’s California sea lions, Sonoma, is currently on breeding loan at Oceans of Fun and gave birth to a male pup in March of this year.

Rescued California Sea Lions at Brookfield Zoo

The third California sea lion, Tanner, arrived at Brookfield Zoo in June on a breeding loan from Shedd Aquarium, where he has resided since the spring of 2012. Shedd Aquarium gave him a second chance at life and offered to provide Tanner a new home after he was removed permanently from the wild by NOAA Fisheries for feeding on a federally protected endangered species of salmon in the Bonneville Dam area on the Columbia River. Government officials gave him the distinguishing and permanent ID on his back, “C011,” to be able to accurately identify him should he return to the dam to feed again on the endangered salmon. Despite several attempts to relocate him to another area, Tanner, who is estimated to be 12 years old, continued to return to the dam. Relocating to Brookfield Zoo represents the next chapter in Tanner’s life. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums California Sea Lion Species Survival Program (SSP) recommended that Tanner join the zoo’s lion population. Jennifer McGee, lead animal care specialist/marine mammals for the Chicago Zoological Society, manages the studbook and is coordinator of the California Sea Lion SSP. McGee is responsible for documenting the pedigree and demographic history of each individual California sea lion at accredited facilities and assists in making breeding recommendations. Since Tanner is wildborn, he is very valuable to the genetic diversity of the accredited North American zoo population for the species. After Tanner acclimates to his new home and his new care-takers, he will be introduced to the rest of the sea lion group sometime this fall.

Guests can see Kanuk, Kodiak, and Tanner along with the zoo’s other sea lions, harbor seals, and gray seals at its Pinniped Point habitat.

Posted: 9/10/2015 12:07:24 PM by Steve Pine Filed under: California, pups, rescued, sea lions

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