DOWNTOWN — More than 1½ years after he moved to the Shedd Aquarium after being shot in the face and blinded, Cruz the sea lion has fully adapted to his new home despite his impairment, a new video shows.
The video, released recently by the Shedd, shows how trainers at the aquarium were able to teach Cruz — who weighed just 60 pounds and was unable to fend for himself when he was discovered on a California beach — his way around the aquarium even though he can't see.
"When we brought him here, he had to learn to negotiate," said Ken Ramirez, Shedd's executive vice president of animal care and training, who flew to Santa Cruz to examine Cruz initially. "When you watch him swimming in his habitat you think he can see because just as he approaches a wall, he turns as if he can see it. But he had to learn where all the walls were."
Ramirez said Cruz was slowly introduced to the different habitats in the Oceanarium.
"He has gotten used to his home and knows his way around very well," he said.
It's a good thing he was able to adapt, officials said. In the wild, he likely wouldn't have survived predators or been able to find his own food, Ramirez said.
The video also shows how trainers had to relearn their own techniques to cope with the disabled animal. They had to change how they did things as they relied primarily on visual cues when working with other animals at the Shedd. Hand signals and a stick with a red buoy at the end were some of their tools.
They've since added beads to the buoy so Cruz can hear it rattle.
"We had to adapt so many of our training techniques to work with an animal that can't see," Ramirez said.
At this point, Ramirez believes "the future for Cruz is excellent."
He hopes to use him in education efforts to show visitors the impact people can have on animals in the wild.
"This animal was injured because of something that people did," he said.
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