Utica Zoo finds new homes for California sea lions

The Utica Zoo will bid farewell to its California sea lion pair, the zoo said on Tuesday.

The reason? The sea lion’s current habitat is too small to exercise freely, zoo officials said. Porter, a 19-year-old male sea lion, weighs 685 pounds. Her more delicate female counterpart, Munchkin, 23, weighs 240 pounds. With a 650-square-foot pool, Porter can only swim two and a half lengths of his body, zoo officials said.

“We have known for some time that our community shares this bittersweet recognition; we often hear our visitors say that we LOVE california sea lions, but we don’t like their display, ”utica zoo executive director Andria Heath said in a statement.

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Porter, a sea lion from California, gives zookeeper Marley Ueland a kiss on the cheek while she is fed Thursday, September 23 at the Utica Zoo.  Porter will depart for Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey on Monday after it was determined that the zoo's sea lion exhibit was too small.

In 2018, the zoo’s sea lion exhibit fell short of Association of Zoos and Aquariums standards. Renovation costs ranged from $ 8 million to $ 10 million, so the zoo decided to find new homes for Porter and Munchkin, officials said.

The process has been slightly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pair are not related, but factors such as age, gender and genetics had to be taken into account when finding a new home for sea lions, said Jay Pratte, director of sea lions. animal care, education and conservation.

On Monday, Porter will make a four-hour trip to the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey. The zoo’s “Sea Lion Sound” features a 103,000 gallon pool, rock formations, a “dock structure” and a “beach” with views above and below the water. Guardians Marley Ueland and Krystin Deban trained the two sea lions in preparation, and a series of zoos along the route have been notified in the event of an emergency.

Munchkin will stay until his transfer plans are finalized. Pratte said she will be given extra care while she is alone.

“We don’t want her to be left alone for an extended period,” he said.

California sea lions are native to coastal waters and beaches, docks, buoys and jetties along the west coast of North America, from southern Alaska to central Mexico. Munchkin and Porter were born in the wild, but due to their level of comfort with humans – a dangerous habit for wild sea lions – they cannot return there, zoo officials said.

Munchkin, a sea lion from California, yawns as it pokes its head out of the water on Thursday, September 23 at the Utica Zoo.  Munchkin will move to another zoo after living in Utica since 1999. Porter, the second sea lion, will also move and has lived in Utica since 2011.

Utica Zoo will receive a new addition, however. Zecora, a zebra from Hartmann’s mountains, will be leaving Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the zoo in late October, in the hopes that she will be a companion for the zebra Rundu, zoo officials said.

Facts about sea lions

  • They are polyamorous: Males will have up to 14 mates in a breeding territory
  • They breastfeed for almost a year: Mothers have an exhausting process of nursing a puppy for one to two days, then allowing two to five days at a time to feed
  • They are under federal protection: Sea lions have been protected by federal law on marine mammals since 1975 and have seen their populations increase since
  • They will rest in the water: A common behavior, known as rafting, involves a sea lion holding its fins above the water for a long time, still, to rest and regulate its body temperature.

Source: NOAA Fisheries

H. Rose Schneider is the public safety reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Rose at [email protected].

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