Sea Lion Dies at the Ripe Old Age of 30

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 13, 2007

Maureen, the venerable and personable California sea lion who had been a fixture at the National Zoo since 1978, died Wednesday, zoo officials announced yesterday.

She was 30, which is very old for a sea lion, zoo spokesman John Gibbons said. Maureen had been lethargic for months, Gibbons said, and her appetite had been uneven.

On Wednesday afternoon, a keeper noted that she seemed unusually sluggish, and when zoo biologist Linda Moore was summoned, Maureen was dead in the bottom of her pool. The average life span for California sea lions is less than 25 years, the zoo said.

Gibbons said Maureen, who was gray when wet but almost blond when dry, had for years been part of a zoo performance designed to illustrate the dangers of pollution. She had been trained to retrieve debris that keepers would throw into the pool as part of the demonstration.

"She was an integral member of our education program," Gibbons said.

Maureen had firsthand experience with the befouled ocean. As a 1-year-old, she was rescued after becoming entangled in a fishing net, an encounter that cost her all of her teeth, Gibbons said. She was rehabilitated and sent to the National Zoo.

Her almost lifelong lack of teeth was not a hindrance at the zoo. "Teeth are really meant to grab onto living prey," Gibbons said. "That wasn't a problem for Maureen, because she was hand-fed fish that were not alive." All she had to do was swallow.

Gibbons said zoo pathologists will perform a necropsy and issue a report in about two weeks. She will probably be cremated, he said. She is survived by at least two pups, Gibbons said.

A male sea lion at the zoo, Norman, died in 2004. The zoo has two younger California sea lions, Summer and Calli, who remain on exhibit in the zoo's Beaver Valley area.

Maureen "definitely was a star here at the zoo and will be sorely missed," Gibbons said. The zoo posted a brief obituary and photograph on its Web site.

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