California is a long way from the Indianapolis Zoo, but by all accounts, Ray the sea lion will be glad to call the Crossroads of America home.
Ray is a rescued animal from California with a very troubled past. 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 Aug. 23. Following 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.
Ray comes from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., which had to rescue him not once, but twice, from the waters off the coast of California. He originally came to the center on Nov. 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 he had suffered not one but two previous gunshot attacks, identifiable because bullets and shotgun pellets were still lodged in his skull and body. Although it is against federal law to harm marine mammals, they are sometimes attacked and shot by humans, particularly by commercial fishermen when sea lions interfere in their nets.
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.
However, 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. 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.
Working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), it was determined that the Indianapolis Zoo would be a 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 pounds - 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 pounds, 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- to 25-plus years life span), the Indianapolis Zoo will simply call him Ray.
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 gray 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.