A California sea lion found shot in the head at a Sausalito beach earlier this month will not be returning to the wild after an examination at the Marine Mammal Center on Monday found that he is completely blind.
The discovery that Silent Knight cannot see means that a new home must be found for him in the next several months or he might have to be euthanized, said Jeff Boehm, the center’s executive director.
The roughly 6-year-old male adult sea lion, named for his regal demeanor with a nod to the holiday season, was found on the evening of Dec. 8 at Swede’s Beach in Sausalito suffering from the gunshot wound, center officials said.
Silent Knight’s right eye was destroyed in the shooting, but Marine Mammal Center officials “had guarded hope” until Monday that the left eye could be salvaged, Boehm said.
But now that the veterinary team has determined the animal is completely blind, the center has to try to find a zoo or aquarium for him since he is not suitable for re-entry to the wild, Boehm said.
“The challenge is, a lot of zoos and aquariums are filled to capacity,” he said. “The match might not be immediately straightforward, but more and more zoos and aquariums are finding there’s tremendous storytelling potential” in an animal like Silent Knight.
He is the ninth marine mammal to be treated for gunshot wounds at the Sausalito-based center this year. There were 19 gunshot victims treated there in 2009, center officials said.
Some people view sea lions and other marine mammals as nuisances to human seafaring, and they are sometimes shot by fishermen.
“His plight is something of interest, and stuns [visitors] when they find how cruel people can be,” Boehm said.
“With the impact of people on wildlife, there’s usually a much less tangible and obvious connection, but this is a pretty dramatic example of how folks’ cruelty can lead to distress and harm to animals,” he said.
Under guidelines set by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the center has six months to determine a diagnosis for an animal and rehabilitate it for release into the wild, Boehm said.
If the animal cannot be rehabilitated in that time frame, which can possibly be extended at the request of the center, another home has to be found or it will be euthanized, he said.
“We’re certainly not there yet, and certainly hope that won’t be a result,” Boehm said. “We’re maintaining some optimism here.”
Although Silent Knight was also found to have a small abscess during Monday’s exam, he has been eating a healthy amount lately and “is getting more and more used to being in our care,” Boehm said.
“We’re certainly not out of the woods yet, but he’s improving,” he said.