After more than two decades at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the California sea lion known as Lea was humanely euthanized on December 14, following longstanding medical complications related to old age. Lea was born at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago on June 1, 1989 and came to the Aquarium in 1991, just prior to its grand opening in 1992. At 27 years old, Lea was at an advanced age for her species, which typically live less than 20 years in the wild.
“Out of all the pinnipeds at the Aquarium, Lea enjoyed interacting with humans the most,” said Ken Lytwyn, Curator of Marine Mammals at the Aquarium, who worked with Lea for more than two decades. “She was as personable as a sea lion could be.” Lytwyn went on to describe Lea as something of a princess, keen to keep things on her own terms. As a young sea lion, she was “a real troublemaker,” Lytwyn said. “She’d try to get away with things and manipulate, or ‘train’, her trainers.” She would sometimes pick favorites, acting up for some trainers but happily cooperating with others.
Lea proved particularly adept at learning new behaviors, including giving humans “kisses” when prompted by a trainer. In fact, Lea was the first pinniped at the Aquarium to master this behavior and give kisses to members of the general public. “It’s largely thanks to her that the Pinniped Kiss program exists at the facility,” said Lytwyn.
Over the past few months staff at the Aquarium had been monitoring Lea closely, as her behaviors gradually became more subdued. By Wednesday it was clear to all that her condition had deteriorated and, not wanting her to suffer, Aquarium staff made the difficult decision to euthanize her.
Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry at the Aquarium, said, “While it’s painful to lose a friend, we are grateful to have made Lea’s passing as peaceful as possible. Lea was a favorite at the Aquarium since the very beginning and she will be greatly missed.”
Information and photos provided by Oregon Coast Aquarium