Updated: January 16, 2013 2:32PM
Like any convicted criminal, Tanner has a number: C011
On Wednesday, Tanner flaunted his “worst offender” status, as he lay on his belly, displaying the label etched into his furry back while camera shutters clicked a few feet away.
The 500-pound sea lion — branded a menace in the Pacific Northwest because he devoured countless endangered salmon there — made his Shedd Aquarium media debut Wednesday, along with Cruz, a tiny blind sea lion pup rescued from a beach in California.
Before arriving at the Shedd last summer, Tanner lived an idyllic life, gobbling salmon from the fish ladder at the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam. Among the hundreds of sea lions that have feasted on the endangered Chinook salmon near the dam, Tanner was one of the greediest.
“He was certainly one of the ones considered a bad boy,” said Ken Ramirez, Shedd’s executive vice president of animal care and training. So bad that he was caught and branded, allowing wildlife biologists to track him.
Tanner came to the Shedd as part of a government program in Washington State to relocate voracious sea lions, Ramirez said.
“Tanner has taken to our program very, very well,” Ramirez said, as a trainer dropped fresh fish into the 5-year-old sea lion’s open mouth Wednesday.
While Tanner has already been on exhibit for a few days, Cruz — a 60-pound pup — is still working with trainers behind the scenes.
Cruz was found last summer on the beach at Santa Cruz, abandoned and blind. He’s been at the Shedd since last month.
“It was obvious he was having trouble seeing, and it wasn’t until rescuers got up close, that they could see he’d been abandoned and had something wrong with his eyes,” Ramirez said.
X-rays revealed shrapnel in the pup’s skull from an apparent gunshot.
“Because he’s totally blind, there’s no way an animal like that could survive in the wild,” Ramirez said, using a rattle and whistle to direct the sea lion’s movements Wednesday. “He couldn’t fend off predators. He couldn’t find food. So the only option was to find a home for him.”
Ramirez said he’s not sure why Cruz was shot, but he said it’s been his experience that sometimes sea mammals are shot simply for “target practice.”
“There’s always going to be a segment of the population who needs the real basic conservation message: The need to care, the need to understand, and we hope Cruz can help us tell that story more effectively,” Ramirez said