Moe is about to meet the little brother he never knew he had. The 535-pound sea lion at the Oklahoma City Zoo soon will be introduced to Dorsey, his little brother from the Tulsa Zoo. In the coming weeks, two sea lions from the Tulsa Zoo will be moved to the Oklahoma City Zoo. The sea lions will stay in the capital for about two years while a new $5 million sea lion habitat is built in place of the old exhibit, said Mike Connolly, assistant curator at the Tulsa Zoo. Moe and Dorsey probably won’t recognize each other, Connolly said. Moe moved to Oklahoma City before Dorsey was born. But they’ll probably be interested in one another and the other new sea lions. "There will be a lot of new stimulus,” Connolly said. "There will be a lot of new experiences.” Zoo staff planned to have the sea lions moved by now, but high heat indexes in the past weeks have delayed the move, Connolly said. And officials in Oklahoma City and Tulsa have been working to find a good date for both institutions. The goal is to move them this month, Connolly said. But the sea lion exhibit design is still in the works, so the timeline isn’t too strict, he said.
Preparing mammals for the journeyThe two sea lions at the Tulsa Zoo are Dorsey, a 16-year-old male, and Briney, a 23-year-old female. Dorsey was born at the Tulsa Zoo, and Briney has lived there almost her whole life. The move will be a significant change for the pair, but Connolly said zookeepers are working to make the transition easier. The sea lions will be moved in crates loaded onto an air-conditioned truck or van, Connolly said. Sea lions and other marine mammals don’t do well with sedatives, Connolly said, so zookeepers looked for another way to get the big animals into travel crates. "It’s really becoming much more of a trend,” he said, "because instead of going in and darting these animals or sedating them, you can get an animal to respond favorably, and it just makes it a lot less stressful.” So for the past several months, trainers have been crate training the sea lions, Connolly said. First the animals were allowed to see the crates. Then they smelled them. Eventually they put a flipper or two in. Then trainers worked with them to enter the crates and spend time comfortably inside. The new habitat in Tulsa will be larger and more up-to-date, Connolly said. "The present facility is just very outdated,” he said. "We’re hoping to have a much more naturalistic exhibit that will help enhance the quality of life for our animals and be great for our guests.” The sea lion area is 50 or 60 years old, Connolly said. The new exhibit will have salt water, not fresh water. Guests will have an underwater viewing area to watch the sea lions swim. And the area will be larger, allowing Tulsa officials to bring in more sea lions. Briney and Dorsey will be quarantined when they arrive in Oklahoma City, Assistant Zoo Director Brian Aucone said. Sea lions are social animals, and they intermingle often in the wild, Aucone said. So the Oklahoma City and Tulsa sea lions likely will adjust quickly to one another. The introduction of new animals will be a good opportunity for all the sea lions. The Tulsa sea lions normally perform a demonstration, but they have been given this year off because of the impending move. They won’t be part of the performing group in Oklahoma City because demonstration training can take several years, Aucone said.
About Sea Lions
→Weight: 440 to 2,200 pounds for males and 110 to 600 pounds for females →Lifespan: 20 to 30 years →Diet: Fish, squid, crabs and clams →Swimming: Can go up to 25 mph and stay underwater for up to 40 minutes →Terminology: Groups are called "rafts,” and young are called "pups” Source: San Diego Zoo