June 19, 2014
California Sea Lion Pup Born at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Amid the loud, prolonged barks and yelps heard from the Seal Cove exhibit is another sound. It’s a youthful bleating coming from an 11-day-old California sea lion pup, born on June 9 at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. The successful birth of newly named female Pebbles is significant as the sire is believed to be Sgt. Nevis, the renowned male sea lion made famous in 2009 after he was shot in the face by a fisherman in the Sacramento River and left for dead.
“If he had not been rescued, he would not have survived in the wild because the severity of his wound affected his ability to dive for fish and fend for himself,” said Michael Muraco, animal care director. “We were unsure if he was capable of breeding since the injury likely affected his sense of smell, which allows males to recognize females in estrus. There was a window of time when he was the only male in the exhibit, so we’re 98 percent he is the sire, but we’ll have a DNA test done nevertheless.”
Sgt. Nevis, called “Sarge” by his trainers, spent the first year after his dramatic rescue by The Marine Mammal Center’s water rescue squad undergoing rehabilitation at the center and recovering from his injuries. Due to his inability to survive on his own, returning him to the wild was not an option. In 2010, after he was moved to the park, he became the first sea lion to receive reconstructive facial surgery. This was necessary to close an open crater-like wound in his snout, just under his eyes, that was caused by several shotgun blasts to his face. Besides being unable to dive or put his head underwater, the injury had forced him to modify his breathing and he was prone to infection.
The new pup Pebbles was born after an 11-month gestation period and is the third offspring of 18-year-old Alani. The protective mom spends her time coddling her newborn and making sure the other residents of the Seal Cove exhibit stay at a distance. Weighing approximately 15 lbs. at birth, Pebbles has been vigorously nursing and growing strong. Guests can view the mother and pup lying next to each other on the exhibit’s beach where Alani leans over frequently to check in, getting nose to nose with her pup to smell her.
Since his move to the park, Sgt. Nevis has fully integrated into his permanent home and rules the roost among a bevy of sea lions and Pacific harbor seals. At 800-lbs., he is the largest sea lion in the group, with a larger-than-life personality and is a favorite among guests and staff.
California sea lions are pinnipeds and differ from seals in a number of ways, including having longer foreflippers and visible earflaps. They are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to hunt or harass any marine mammal in U.S. waters.