When guests got a glimpse of Ray, who was one of the five California sea lions here at the Indianapolis Zoo, it was easily apparent that the magnificent marine mammal had a story to tell. As the scars on his face indicated, his story was filled with struggles, but it ended with many happy years! Ray was an ambassador for the quality care we provide animals here at the Zoo, and he is greatly missed.
Ray was twice rescued along the coast California and rehabilitated following multiple gunshot wounds. 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 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 was still able to maneuver by memory through our exhibit. He did, 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 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. Ray would touch them with his whiskers to have a better idea of what was going on around him. Keepers also used verbal and physical cues, instead of visual cues, to better allow Ray to respond.
Like all animals at the Zoo, Ray also received regular check-ups with veterinarians. Trainers regularly worked with Ray, providing gentle touches to help him get used to any medical procedures he would need.
Despite the challenges, keepers say Ray remained a calm and personable sea lion. Though he displayed frustrations at times when he got turned around in the exhibit, he responded very positively to keepers and his love for rubdowns never changed.
With the help of our expert care staff, Ray had an enriching life at the Zoo until he passed early in 2019 of cancer. His trainers have many fond memories, especially his signature bark that greeted guests as they entered the Zoo.
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