MUSEUM CAMPUS — The Shedd Aquarium has doubled its sea lion population, bringing in two rescued animals — including one apparently blinded by a shotgun blast.
Tanner, 5, and 1-year-old Cruz, both rescued California sea lions, came late last year to the Chicago aquarium for its nationally recognized marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation program.
Tanner made his public debut last week, and Cruz, who only arrived in Chicago in mid-December and is still a pup, will be on display sometime next week if he's ready.
Cruz especially will benefit from the Shedd's rehabilitation programs because he was blinded by shrapnel, likely the result of shotgun fire, and would not have been able to survive in the wild.
Ken Ramirez, Shedd's executive vice president of animal care and training, flew to Santa Cruz, where little Cruz, less than 60 pounds, was discovered on a beach unable to fend for himself. Researchers believe he may have been shot in the face as target practice.
"Cruz reminds me there's always going to be a segment of the population that needs the real basic conservation message — the need to care, the need to understand," Ramirez said, after walking Cruz through some rudimentary tricks with audio cues. "We hope Cruz can help us tell that story more effectively."
Tanner, rescued from Tanner Creek near the Columbia River in Washington, was facing euthanization as one of many sea lions overeating endangered Chinook salmon in the Bonneville Dam area.
Ramirez said Tanner has bonded with trainer Kelly Schaff, building the trust necessary for training since the day he arrived in Chicago.
The Shedd Aquarium was one of the first institutions to offer permanent homes to sea lions displaced by the dam, offering relocation as an alternative that saved dozens of animals, including the Shedd's other two male sea lions, Ramirez said.
Tanner will now live on a diet of herring, capelin smelt and squid — much less fattening than the salmon that helped him pack on more than 500 pounds.
"It's probably not as enjoyable as Chinook salmon," Ramirez joked, but at the Shedd, unlike the Bonneville Dam, Tanner can safely eat to his heart's content.