Zoo Rescues Injured Elephant Seal

(Pittsburgh) (April 2014)—The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium has partnered with the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center (NMMC) to provide a new home to a yearling northern elephant seal named Coolio. Coolio almost died from injuries sustained when he was just three months old.

Northern elephant seals travel thousands of miles twice a year to a land-based rockery where the females give birth. At a very young age, the babies are left by their mothers to fend for themselves. The young learn to swim and forage for food on their own. 

“At birth the young seals weigh between 70 and 80 pounds, and through nursing for a month, they gain weight quickly and build up a fat deposit that will help them as they learn to search for food,” says Dr. Dennis Wood, NMMC Veterinarian.

It is not unusual to find young elephant seals beached and hungry because they were unsuccessful in their attempts at finding food. “But when Coolio was found lying on Pebble Beach in Crescent City, California, by a resident, he was in the worst condition I have ever seen,” says Dr. Wood. “He was in an extreme weakened condition and could not fend off scavengers who attacked him causing severe trauma to his head and eyes. Had he not been found when he was, he would have died.”

For the past several months Dr. Wood and his staff have been caring for Coolio. The young seal has been steadily gaining weight and receiving treatment for the wounds to his head and his eyes.

“The severity of his eye injuries has left him blind in both eyes,” says Dr. Wood. “We worked with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and determined that with his injuries Coolio could not safely be released back into the wild, so we began the hunt for a new home.”

Dr. Wood contacted the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium because the Water’s Edge exhibit has pools and areas designed for the special needs of marine mammals, and would be able to provide a home for Coolio.

“Coolio is the only male elephant seal to be housed in North America,” says Dr. Barbara Baker, President & CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “He has special needs that will require a different level of care, treatment, and training that we know we can provide for him here.  I am excited to meet this strong little guy who is fighting a tough battle and winning.”

Dwayne Biggs, Curator of Aquatic Life at PPG Aquarium and Water’s Edge echoes Dr. Baker. “We are excited to provide a home for Coolio at the Zoo. He is a fighter and despite all the odds, he is making amazing progress. I can’t wait to see what else he has to share with us.”

Initially, Coolio will not be on exhibit for the public to see, rather he will be spending time behind-the-scenes acclimating to his new environment and keepers.  

Assistant Curator of Aquatic Life, Paul Moylett traveled to California to meet Coolio. “With help from the staff at the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center, I was able to begin establishing a relationship with him,” says Moylett. “He is eager to learn and listens intently to the noises and voices around him. Due to his lack of sight, it will be important to establish a strong bond with him through verbal and tactile (touch) communications. It will be a slow process, but I am confident that we will be successful.”

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium thanks the Vein Institute for their generous support of our efforts to provide Coolio with a new home.

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