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The Scoop

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File / The Journal Gazette
Sally in 2009.

Verbatim: Zoo celebrates life, mourns death of Sally the sea lion

Statement issued Wednesday:

Zoo staff, friends, and fans are celebrating the life of Sally the sea lion, who died on February 12. Sally was 30 years old.

"Sally was the boss of Sea Lion Beach," said Central Zoo Area Manager Shelley Scherer. "She had lots of personality. We’ll definitely miss her."

After becoming stranded on an Oregon beach, Sally was rescued and moved to a west coast aquarium before moving to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in 1998. Daily shows at the zoo’s Sea Lion Beach display made Sally and her exhibit-mates Fishbone and Grits instant celebrities.

In 2007 Sally was diagnosed with mammary cancer after keepers discovered a mass in her abdomen during a routine exam. (Mammary cancer is similar to breast cancer in humans.) Because of the high risk of complications associated with major surgery on a geriatric sea lion, Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Joe Smith did not recommend surgery or aggressive treatment for the cancer or for the cataracts that were taking her sight. Instead, keepers opted to use pain medication to keep Sally comfortable as long as necessary. The life expectancy of a captive sea lion is 20-25 years.

Shortly after Sally reached her milestone 30th birthday in January, making her one of the oldest sea lions in captivity, her health began to decline. When Sally lost her appetite and missed several meals last week, keepers knew that Sally was nearing the end. "Sally always loved to eat," Scherer recalls. "She was always the first one in line at feeding time."

With Sally reluctant to move, unable to see, and experiencing discomfort despite multiple pain-relief drugs, Dr. Smith and Sally’s keepers made the difficult decision to euthanize Sally on Friday.

After Sally’s death, Fishbone and Grits, both eight years old, will continue the zoo’s twice-daily sea lion feeding shows that are so popular with zoo guests. The zoo hopes to obtain two additional sea lions within the next year from another United States zoo.

"Our staff did a superb job caring for Sally," said Zoo Director Jim Anderson. "More than six million people met Sally in her 12 years with us. She made a difference."

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