Blind sea lion pup gets a new home at the Shedd

Cruz sniffs a training rattle. Photo:  Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Cruz sniffs a training rattle. Photo: Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Twenty-month-old Cruz can’t see, so he’ll need to rely on the staff at the Shedd Aquarium to be his eyes.

The pup was just introduced at the aquarium this week after traveling all the way from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. He was found stranded in Santa Cruz, with one eye destroyed and the other one blinded by bullet shards (sea lions and seals are often the target of malicious attacks, either by fishermen or hunters looking for target practice). Unable to hunt for himself, he was taken to the center where workers rehabilitated him. Now he’s arrived at the Shedd, his permanent home through a government placement program.

Trainers started working with Cruz in California, teaching him audible signals using a rattle and words like “water,” “follow,” and “wait.” The staff say Cruz is making remarkable progress, and can even find live prey in his habitat by using his ears and following the ripples through the water.

Cruz didn’t arrive in Chicago alone. Five-year-old, 500-pound Tanner was also transferred from the west coast, though a bit farther north in Oregon. Unfortunately, Tanner is part of a sea lion population that is overhunting the endangered Chinook salmon of the northern Pacific. Past efforts to solve the problem have mostly just resulted in culling the sea lions in favor of the salmon. Now the government has stepped in, pairing wildlife agencies with aquariums and zoos to find homes for the overpopulated sea lions. Tanner, named after Tanner Creek where he was found, is the second sea lion to come to the Shedd under the program; he’ll be joining Biff, who’s been at the aquarium since 2009.

Check out Cruz learning his new signals from a Shedd trainer.



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