When guests get a glimpse of Ray, one of five California sea lions here at the Indianapolis Zoo, it’s easily apparent that this magnificent marine mammal has a story to tell. As the scars on his face indicate, it’s a story filled with struggles, but it has a happy ending! He’s also become an ambassador for the quality care we provide animals here at the Zoo.
Ray was twice rescued and rehabilitated following multiple gunshot attacks along the coasts of California. The second attack in 2012, which left shotgun pellets lodged in his head and body, significantly damaged Ray’s eyesight. His right eye was so seriously injured that it had to be surgically removed while his left eye had only limited vision.
After treatment, his rescuers decided he would no longer be able to survive in the wild, and in August 2012, the Indianapolis Zoo stepped in to provide Ray a safe, new home.
Despite Ray’s limited vision, he adjusted well to his surroundings and soon after his arrival, Ray had become a central — and very vocal — part of the Zoo’s colony.
Given his limitations, Zookeepers observed Ray closely, and as time went on, they noticed changes in his behavior. During training sessions, the sea lion worked increasingly close to his keepers. He also began bumping into objects and appearing confused at times as he moved around the exhibit. A follow-up exam by the Zoo’s veterinary staff as well as an ophthalmologist confirmed Ray had gone blind in his left eye.
For animals in the wild, a total loss of vision would be disastrous, but here at the Zoo, Ray has adapted well with the assistance of our expert animal care staff.
Before losing his sight, Ray had already learned all the twists and turns of our fixed environment, so he’s still able to maneuver by memory through our exhibit. He does, however, stick to certain patterns for swimming and put his whiskers out to avoid bumping into other animals or objects.
And since they first started working with Ray, keepers have modified some of their training methods to better accommodate his disability. For example, when they noticed Ray having difficulties responding to their direction, they adjusted and started getting down on his level. Now Ray will touch them with his whiskers to have a better idea of what is going on around him. Keepers also use verbal and physical cues, instead of visual cues, to better allow Ray to respond.
Like all animals at the Zoo, Ray also receives regular check-ups with veterinarians. Trainers regularly work with Ray, providing gentle touches to help him get used to any medical procedures he would need.
Despite the challenges, keepers say Ray remains a calm and personable sea lion. Though he does display frustrations at times when he gets turned around in the exhibit, he responds very positively to keepers and his love for rubdowns hasn’t changed.
With the help of our expert care staff, Ray will have a bright future here. He greets guests with his signature bark as they enter the Zoo.
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