Aquarium faults sea lions' care

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Posted by on July 11, 2006 at 22:54:58:

In Reply to: Aquarium of the Pacific Says Improper Care During Heat Wave Killed Sea Lions posted by msblucow on July 11, 2006 at 08:22:31:

Long Beach: Failure to follow proper procedures led to deaths from heat exhaustion.

LONG BEACH - A sea lion and her pup who died July 1 at the Aquarium of the Pacific were not watered down enough to keep them cool during the hot day, resulting in heat exhaustion, aquarium officials said Monday.

The incident, which prompted an investigation by the Long Beach facility, has resulted in the resignation of two staff members who did not follow proper procedures in caring for 4-year-old Kona and her month-old pup, said Aquarium CEO and President Jerry R. Schubel.

"It's very clear that we have a set of procedures and those procedures were not followed," Schubel said. "And there was not appropriate oversight of those procedures."

Schubel declined to release the names or job titles of the two staff members.

"We respect our employees, and we want to treat them with dignity," he said.

The aquarium is gathering a team with different areas of expertise to determine how operations can be changed to minimize the probability that such an incident will happen again, said. That inquiry, guided by an outside facilitator, should be completed by the end of the month, he added.

There are no immediate plans to acquire more sea lions, he said.

In a message to aquarium members and supporters, Schubel wrote that the incident has been difficult for the organization.

"The animals in our care are a great responsibility and even a simple mistake can have tragic results," he wrote. "The entire staff is driven to do everything in our power to prevent this from ever happening again."

A post-mortem examination showed Kona and the pup's body temperatures were a few degrees above normal, officials said. The examination led aquarium officials to conclude that the primary cause of death was heat exhaustion, Schubel said.

Sea lions are more susceptible to heat because of the thick layer of blubber they carry to insulate against cold ocean waters.

The deaths came a day after another sea lion, Roxy, died after undergoing surgery to re-insert her uterus, which had been pushed out following the stillborn birth of a pup a day earlier.

Roxy's heart stopped while she was under anesthesia for the surgery.

The United States Department of Agriculture, which issues licenses to the nation's aquariums and zoos, is investigating the deaths for "possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act," a spokesman said Monday.

The investigation is ongoing, said USDA spokesman Darby Holladay.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency, a branch of the USDA, is looking into whether the aquarium violated federal laws by failing to keep Kona and her pup properly cooled as temperatures soared to 90 degrees.

The animals, watered down about an hour before their deaths, were being held in a private nursery where shade and a bathing pool were provided, said Perry Hampton, the aquarium's director of animal husbandry.

They were found dead at 2 p.m.

Since the aquarium opened in the late 1990s, there have been at least four other sea lion deaths at the facility, which houses hundreds of marine animals in more than 50 exhibits.

A pregnant sea lion plunged to her death from the top of an empty tank in March 1998, and a male sea lion died from a bacterial infection later that year.

In 2001, an elderly sea lion named Kai was put to sleep after suffering from multiple health problems, and a 5-year-old sea lion named Sadie died while under anesthesia for a routine eye exam in February 2003.

At least one animal-rights organization has called for the aquarium to close its sea lion and seal exhibit.

"There is no excuse for allowing a mother and baby sea lion to die from heat exhaustion," said Debbie Leahy, director of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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