California is a long way from the Indianapolis Zoo, but after you learn his story, you’ll know that Ray the sea lion will be glad to call the Crossroads of America home. 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 Zoo on August 23. After the usual 30-day quarantine for new Zoo animals, he will take his place in the Zoo’s sea lion and seal exhibit just outside the Oceans building. See video of Ray behind-the-scenes at the Zoo!
Ray comes from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, 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 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’d be good as new. However, during his check-up they found something disturbing. Radiographs of Ray’s head and torso showed that the then-burly 175-lb. pinniped had suffered not one, but two previous gunshot attacks, identifiable because bullets and shotgun pellets were still lodged in his skull and body.
No one will ever know who pulled the trigger or when Ray was shot, but we do know that the shooters broke federal law, which prohibits harming marine mammals. No one knows how many marine mammals are killed by gunshots every year, but the Center sees far too many cases of sea lions apparently shot because they interfered with fisherman’s nets looking for a meal.
Ray was lucky that first time, 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 right eye and mouth. At the Center’s hospital, veterinarians discovered that the injury to his eye was as a result of yet another gunshot wound he sustained and that he had no vision in that eye. In addition, he developed a lens opacity that left him with limited vision in his left eye.
Outside of his wounds, Ray was in good body condition and ate well – despite needing a little guidance to find the fish that were put before him at meal time. With all his problems, Ray was not a candidate for release again, so the Center staff began training him in voice and visual commands to prepare for his new life, wherever that might be.
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 at least eight veterinarians! With the cataract removed, he has better vision out of that eye – great news for an animal that had already been through a lot.
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 nearly 270 lbs. – a more than 90 pound weight gain in about six months.
Comparing him in size and features to Diego, the Zoo’s male sea lion that was born here eight years ago and weighs 435 lbs., the experts are estimating that Ray is somewhere between 4 and 5 years old. In fact, the Center’s name for this sea lion was “Old Ray,” but since he’s really just a young man in sea lion years (20-25+ years life span), the Indianapolis Zoo will call him just plain Ray.
Ray already has some media attention on his resume. He was featured, along with another sea lion that was shot named Whirlybird, on People Magazine’s web site and in a recent story in the Mercury News. You can read Ray’s story and see photos of his early days on the Marine Mammal Center’s website.
Ray will look a bit different than your usual sea lion – he bears the scars of his tough start in life – but the Zoo’s marine mammal staff is looking forward to welcoming the newcomer to the group. The exhibit features two adult sea lion females, Marcy and Hide, plus harbor seals Tac and Lucy and grey seal Pepper. The rapidly-growing young adult sea lion Diego currently is keeping walrus Aurora company in her exhibit. Although his overall health appears good at the moment, rescued animals, especially ones with a sad history like Ray’s, always present unique issues for the keepers and veterinarians.
So, join us in welcoming Ray to the Indianapolis Zoo family!
— Content from the Marine Mammal Center contributed to this blog post. Thanks to them for allowing us to use these photos of Ray while he was at the Marine Mammal Center.