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Louisville Zoo Participates in Rescues

CONTACT: Kyle Shepherd
Direct: 502-238-5331  |  Media Only: 502-744-5639

In June of 2015, The Louisville Zoo participated in the rescue of a stranded and non-releasable California sea lion and a harbor seal. Both animals were found stranded, dehydrated and malnourished off the coast of California as the result of an “Unusual Mortality Event,” defined under the Mammal Protection Act as “a stranding that is unexpected; involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population; and demands immediate response.” Both animals had suffered injuries and were referred to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for placement in a managed-care facility, with Louisville Zoo’s Glacier Run as a recommended facility.

While Riva, the one-year-old California sea lion, appears to be thriving and adapting well to her new  habitat in the Glacier Run, we are saddened to announce that the two-year-old harbor seal, Spike, passed away on September  7 after two months of care by the Louisville team. A necropsy (animal autopsy) has been conducted to ascertain the cause of death but was inconclusive; further pathology testing is pending. Spike had experienced two strandings and attempts at rehabilitation. He was deemed non-releasable due to issues with a chronic intermittent ear infection. Marine mammal experts were concerned that his issues would not allow him to dive to fish and forage for food. It was decided that he needed ongoing care in a managed-care facility. NMSF cites over a 50 percent survival rate for the stranded pups that are well situated for release, which Riva and Spike were not.

The Louisville Zoo had placed the award-winning Glacier Run exhibit on the list of potential care facilities offering available capacity and staff expertise. The addition of Riva brings the total number of rescued animals at Glacier Run to six of twelve. Seven-year-old California sea lion Kahula was stranded and rescued in 2010. A family of three grizzly bears and Qannik, the polar bear found stranded in Alaska, were also rescued and now reside in Glacier Run.

When the NMFS contacted Louisville to request placing several pinnipeds here, Mammal Curator and Supervisor of Animal Training, Jane Anne Franklin consulted with Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Zoli Gyimesi to determine if Louisville could be a good match for Riva and Spike. Once determined and approved by NMFS, zoo curators flew to Los Angeles to retrieve the pinnipeds, just two of the hundreds of pinnipeds that have been rescued so far due to stranding. Researchers are still unsure at this time what is causing this escalation in stranded animals. Between January and May 2015, California sea lion strandings were 10 times higher than the average of the same period during 2004 – 2012.

Riva has been acclimating to her new home and introduced to other animals in the collection; she is receiving routine husbandry training. She is now available for viewing in rotation with fellow California sea lions Bart, Triton, Kahula, Gremlin and Patches and the harbor seal Toney at Glacier Run. .

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The Louisville Zoo, a non-profit organization and state zoo of Kentucky, is dedicated to bettering the bond between people and our planet by providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors, and leadership in scientific research and conservation education. The Zoo is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).