Thursday, July 12, 2012

Old Ray

I'm taking a break from a lot of self pity at the moment to write about something uplifting.  At my externship at Marine Mammal Center back in March-May we had a California Sea Lion "restand" (meaning he'd been picked up, rehabilitated, and released before) named "Old Ray".

The backstory is that when Old Ray was picked up the first time the vet suspected leptospirosis, a parasite that attacks the kidneys.  But, when he was sedated for an exam, they noticed some hard lumps on his neck and decided to take some x-rays.  The radiographs showed that Old Ray had shot gun pellets and a bullet (probably a .22 caliber) lodged near his jaw.  But, because he had no wounds the vet decided that the bullet and shot were just incidental findings.  Old Ray was fattened up and when at a decent weight and acting well, they released him.

Shortly before I started at Marine Mammal Center in mid-March, Old Ray was picked up again.  He was reported by a concerned citizen that said they saw blood coming from his eye.  So, once again, Marine Mammal Center's Rescue team went out, caught him, and brought him back to the medical center in Sausalito, Ca.

This time Old Ray's left eye was severely damaged or missing and the right eye appeared to have a cataract. It was clear that if he could see at all his vision was not very good.  So, Old Ray was sedated and more x-rays were taken in order to determine if he had been shot again.  Unfortunately, because there were so many pellets on the previous radiograph, it was difficult to tell if he had been shot again.  Either way, Old Ray's prospects of being were not good if he couldn't see, so they started the paperwork required to try to place him in a zoo.

Once the paperwork was filed and it was clear that Old Ray was going to be staying with TMMC for awhile, the vetstaff decided to move him to a larger pen with a bigger and deeper pool and I was lucky enough to be one of the people who got to move him to the new pen.  I can't tell you how great it was to watch him feel the pool, then dive in and go straight to the bottom before jumping out on the other side and seeming to look (or more likely smell) at the beautiful rocky beach viewable from his new home.

I left to go back to Chicago with a quick goodbye.  After the move I was careful not to spend too much time with Old Ray because it was clear I had some affection for him even though there was no guarantee that a happy ending was in store for him.  So, when I moved to the Bay area in June and went back to volunteer at Marine Mammal Center, it was with some caution that I inquired about Old Ray.

It turned out he was still there, but he had undergone cataract surgery.  While Old Ray was pretty laid back and calm before the surgery, after it he became much more active and more aggressive.  Immediately the vet staff stopped any training he was undergoing and they are now evaluating him once again for release!

Due to space constraints, however, since I've been back Old Ray has been back in a smaller pen.  Today he got a new penmate, though!  A small sea lion pup named Whirlybird.  Whirlybird was rescued because he is blind.  It appears he had some trauma to both eyes and the penmate he was with was bullying him and not allowing him to eat.  So, the vet staff decided to try putting him in with Old Ray.  They were an unlikely couple since Old Ray is a very large adult, but again I was lucky enough to be on the team of people that moved Whirlybird.

So, we opened Whirlybird's pen and "boarded" him out of his old pen and into the new one (basically pushed him with large wooden shield-like boards).  When Whirlybird entered the pen, Old Ray came out of the water barking.  But quickly his barks grew softer.  And he moved closer, sniffed Whirlybird, and then backed up.  He continued a repetitive, soft bark while backing up the ramp that lead into the pool.  And eventually Whirlybird caught on and followed the sound of Old Ray's barks and entered the water.  Old Ray followed and they swam together for awhile before Old Ray allowed Whirlybird to have the pool to himself.

We let them be at that point, but when it came time for the afternoon feed I quickly grabbed the fish bucket for Old Ray and Whirlybird's pen to see how they'd do eating together.  When I arrived at the door, Whirlybird was sitting right in front of the door and Old Ray was in the pool.  I entered the pen to try to board Whirlybird into the pool (they can only be fed in the water to simulate the hunting in the water that they need to do in the wild).  But Whirlybird would not move.  I threw a couple fish in the pool and Old Ray began barking once again.  When I tried again to push Whirlybird up toward the ramp to the pool, Old Ray came out of the pool and toward me and Whirlybird.  Since he's an adult sea lion I quickly retreated from the pen and called in a more experienced person to help.

A fellow volunteer, Stan, entered the pen and Old Ray was at the top of the ramp barking at Whirlybird.  When Stan pushed Whirlybird toward the ramp Old Ray just watched silently for a moment and then began barking again.  Whirlybird then started moving forward and Old Ray backed up and continued barking until Whirlybird made it into the water and then Old Ray jumped in.  We were then able to dump the fish in the water and leave them to eating.

It was so heartwarming to see the interaction between those two and I'm happy to say that Indianapolis zoo is currently thinking about taking Old Ray if he starts doing better in confinement and if he's  not deemed well enough to release!  It's a good thing too because if I wasn't attached to this poor dude before I certainly am now!