Brookfield Zoo’s newest residents flew in from California on a FedEx cargo plane to O’Hare International Airport last week.
Carolyn and Sabiena, two sea lions, were rescued in California and deemed unreleasable due to health conditions. The sea lions, both around 2 years old, are settling into their new home, said Rita Stacey, curator of marine mammals at the Chicago Zoological Society.
Sabiena was rescued in May 2018 at Westward Beach in Malibu, California, by staff from the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro. She was extremely malnourished and had multiple fishhooks in her body and in one of her eyes, which led to the removal of the eye, Stacey said.
Last November, staff from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center rescued Carolyn about 90 miles south of where Sabiena was found, near Dana Point Harbor. She was dehydrated and malnourished, with cuts on her flippers and chest. X-rays revealed more than 30 stones in her stomach, which Stacey said is a sign that she was starving.
When they were rescued, Carolyn weighed 46 pounds and Sabiena weighed 31 pounds Healthy sea lions of that age should weigh around 100 pounds, Stacey said.
Wildlife officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service determined that the sea lions would not survive on their own in the wild. When a call for a forever home was sounded, Brookfield Zoo answered.
Sabiena and Carolyn were named for FedEx employees who assisted with the animals’ travel arrangements. Their direct flight from Los Angeles was donated by FedEx.
Stacey said the zoo is grateful to be able to provide a nurturing environment for the sea lions where they will be well-fed, socialized with other sea lions, tended to by veterinarians, and be physically and mentally stimulated.
Tuesday, veterinarians at the zoo performed full examinations of the animals that included blood samples and CT scans to ensure no hooks remained in Carolyn’s body. Dr. Michael Adkesson, vice president of clinical medicine, said the sea lions are “doing fantastic."
Though Carolyn and Sabiena are still adjusting, he said they’re both eating well and seem content, noting that sea lions generally have charismatic personalities, similar to those of a golden retriever or Labrador.
“Both were stranded and had a very rough start to life,” Adkesson said. "We’re thrilled to be able to have them here in Chicago.
When they’ve settled into their new home, the zoo staff plans to introduce them to Brookfield Zoo’s other pinnipeds: four male California sea lions, four female California sea lions, a male gray seal and two female gray seals.
The two additions will make their public debut in mid-October in the Pinniped Point exhibit, where the rest of the zoo’s sea lions and seals are housed, Stacey said.
“We’re hoping they go on to live long happy, healthy lives,” she said.