Vancouver, B.C. – The California sea lion who made headlines last year after he was blinded by gunshot wounds to his face has made an impressive recovery, and on Wednesday he moved into comfortable new digs at the Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise initiative.
Señor Cinco — so named because he was found on Cinco de Mayo 2017 (May 5) on Spanish Banks beach — was in poor condition when first reported to Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. The adult male had been shot in the face using a small-caliber gun, likely several weeks before his stranding, which resulted in blindness in both eyes and broken teeth. He had not been able to feed himself because of his injuries, and at the time of his rescue, was emaciated and too weak to move.
“We could tell immediately that his condition was critical,” said Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the Rescue Centre. “An adult sea lion should not be easy to approach, but he was lethargic and not responsive to activity around him on the busy public beach.” His first full examination under anesthetic showed two bullets still lodged in his head. Veterinarians removed his broken teeth, and he soon began eating again. Señor Cinco, estimated to be about 10 years old, gained both a reputation for relaxed sunbathing and an impressive 140-plus kilograms over the 13 months of his recovery. He also won the hearts of all who met and cared for him.
“We don’t play favourites; we care about all of the animals that come through here,” said Akhurst. “But Cinco really is a special animal; he’s a bit of a gentle giant. He can’t see us but he responds to the sound of our voices and takes his fish like such a gentleman.”
Because he is blind and unable to care for himself, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has deemed Cinco non-releasable. On Wednesday, the team transported him to the Vancouver Aquarium, where he moved into the Sugar habitat. After a careful first exploration of his new home, using his whiskers to help him avoid obstacles, he is beginning to get more comfortable and confident in the larger space.
“He is settling in just fine,” said Brian Sheehan, curator of marine mammals at Vancouver Aquarium. “His first day was spent starting to feel his way around his new habitat, but in the weeks and months to come, Cinco will begin his training, learning behaviours that will help us take care of him, and provide exercise and enrichment,” explained Sheehan. “In Cinco’s case, because he’s blind, we’ll be relying on hearing and touch rather than sight.”
Señor Cinco is the first California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) to take up residence at the Vancouver Aquarium. The male of the species is distinguishable from its cousin, the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus), by its blonde “buzzcut,” the sagittal crest on its head. California sea lions can also be identified by their characteristic barking rather than the “lawnmower” vocalizations made by Stellers.
Visitors to the Vancouver Aquarium can see Señor Cinco settle into his new life, and learn about the special adjustments both he and the marine mammal team will make to compensate for his lack of vision.
To help fund the ongoing rescue and rehabilitation of animals like Señor Cinco, donate to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at www.vanaqua.org/donate. The Centre rescues, rehabilitates and releases about 150 animals each year; while most of the patients are harbour seal pups, the veterinary team has provided medical treatment to elephant seals, sea otters, sea lions, whales, dolphins and porpoises, most of which are successfully released back into the wild. Last year, the team rescued more than 200 seal pups, three sea lions, a northern fur seal and a sea otter pup. The goal for every rescued marine mammal is to treat, rehabilitate and return it to the wild as soon as possible.
If you see a marine mammal that you believe is in distress, do not approach it and keep pets away. Please call the BC Marine Mammal Response Network at 1-800-465-4336 or Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-SEAL (7325) for immediate assistance.
Vancouver Aquarium® Marine Mammal Rescue Centre
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, an Ocean Wise initiative, is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. The Rescue Centre rescues stranded marine mammals and rehabilitates them for release back into their natural habitat. Donate to the Rescue Centre at www.vanaqua.org/donate.
Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise initiative, is one of the world’s leading accredited aquariums, dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life. www.vanaqua.org
Ocean Wise is a not-for-profit organization whose vision is a world in which oceans are healthy and flourishing. www.ocean.org
Social Media: @VanAqua | #VanAqua