SAUSALITO -- A young sea lion found last month with a gunshot wound to the face is recovering at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.
Whirlybird, a young California sea lion, was found listless and unresponsive on a set of stairs leading to the beach near Corcoran Lagoon on July 2. The Marine Mammal Center sent a team to rescue it.
Center veterinarians found one of the sea lion's eyes was missing and other very cloudy. X-rays determined the sea lion had been shot in the face. Metal fragments were scattered throughout its head, and had destroyed its right eye. The left eye was damaged so severely that the sea lion, nicknamed Whirlybird, was blind in both eyes.
The animal is recovering nicely, said Jim Oswald of the Marine Mammal Center, but it won't be able to be released back into the wild.
Whirlybird "is hanging out with another gunshot wound victim, Old Ray," Oswald said.
Old Ray returned to the Marine Mammal Center in March after he was found at Moss Landing Harbor with injuries to his right eye and mouth. Veterinarians determined the injury to his eye was the result of a gunshot wound, and that the animal was blind in the right eye with limited vision in the left.
This was the second time rescuers had found the sea lion with gunshot wounds. Old Ray originally had been rescued in November 2011 and was treated for gunshot wounds before being released in December.
While center officials can't say exactly why these sea lions were shot, such incidents are typically the result of conflicts with fishermen who are trying to protect their catch.
Twenty sea lions were found dead of gunshot wounds in Northern Oregon and Southern Washington state between April and June, coinciding with the spring salmon run, according to experts.
Last year, 10 of the 545 marine mammals rescued by the Marine Mammal Center had gunshot wounds.
The Marine Mammal Center is working with representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to find a zoo or aquarium for Whirlybird to live, with the hope of being able to send Old Ray to the same place.
The two sea lions appear to get along quite well, Oswald said.
To prepare Whirlybird, workers at the Marine Mammal Center are practicing what's called target training. This gets the marine mammal used to humans and teaches it how to respond to basic commands.
Whirlybird doesn't appear to have any other outstanding medical issues, fortunately.
"His appetite is good," Oswald said. "He's eating about 7 pounds of fish a day."
Oswald reminds the public to report distressed marine mammals by calling the organization at 415-289-SEAL. The organization is also seeking donations to help feed the animals they care for. Each dollar donated buys 1 pound of fish, so a donation of $10 buys one seal pup a meal. More information about the dollar-a-pound campaign can be found on the Marine Mammal Center's website at www.marinemammalcenter.org.
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