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The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit veterinary hospital, research, and educational center dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of ill and injured marine mammals and the study of their health. Since 1975, the Center has rescued and treated more than 16,500 marine mammals and has accumulated a body of knowledge about marine mammal and ocean health. Through public education about marine mammals, the Center hopes to foster ocean stewardship and conservation. For more information, visit http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blackwolf: In Our Hearts Forever

Little Blackwolf is in the background. The other marine mammal is Gremlin, an adult California sea lion.

This adorable sea lion pup stole the heart of everyone who saw her at The Marine Mammal Center. She was only a few months old when she arrived at the Center. Rescued on October 6, 2010, from Bird Rock Beach in Monterey County, this little gal weighed only 26 pounds when she got here.

At the Center, veterinarians found that the petite pup was suffering from pneumonia and malnutrition. Because Blackwolf was so young when she was rescued and unable to learn to eat fish on her own, the Center veterinarian staff knew she couldn’t survive a return to the wild. Therefore Center staff began to “target train” Blackwolf to prepare her for a new home in a zoo.

Animal care volunteer Val helped prepare Blackwolf for her new home:

For those of us who volunteer in animal care, we are trained to hide our profiles behind boards, keep our voices low, never feed by hand, avoid eye contact with the animals, etc.That’s because most of our patients return to the wild.

However, the rules for Blackwolf were quite different since she could not be released to the wild. She had to learn to interact with people in order to allow them to safely care for her. I was asked to continue to reinforce her positive learning process, and after undergoing a bit of training myself, I was handed a bucket of fish, and into the pen I went. The first time she targeted for me, she ran at me full speed and left no doubt that she had performed her task correctly - her idea of "target" was a quite forceful smack of her nose against my fist!

I quickly rewarded her with a fish and verbal praise. Then I began walking away from her while speaking the second command "Follow." Immediately, I had a very small sea lion walking slightly behind me, with her head bumping my leg as we took a short jaunt around the pool. Time for another fish reward and lots of praise! Then I pointed to the pool and spoke the third command "Water" and in she went. Then back out she came ready for her reward. We repeated these actions until her quota of fish was gone, and after a bit more praise, I left the pen.

On April 7, 2010, Black Wolf was sent to live with another sea lion at Miller Park Zoo in Illinois, where she will be well cared for and provide an opportunity to educate the public about marine mammals. We'll keep you posted here as we hear more about her life in her new home.

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