“ESPERANZA” : A ray of HOPE!

“Esperanza” is the first sea lion I met in ORCA. When I arrived at ORCA base at April 1st, 2015, there’re 3 sea lions in our facility: “Mark”, “Logan” and “Esperanza”. “Mark” is a male juvenile who pretty much can be called hyperactive and was always moving lighting-fast toward the fish! “Logan” was a 3 months-old baby sea lion. And then there is “Esperanza” a female juvenile with an injured right flipper caused by direct human aggression. She was found stranded among the rocks at the beach of Club Regatas at Lima City Bay. The rescue was quick and easy since she was weak and exhausted.
      When I arrived, she had already been with ORCA for 2 weeks. During these 2 weeks, “Esperanza” had a great recovery from the broken flipper (we found that with an x-ray) but by then she was able to stand up and slightly walk again. Unlike “Mark”, “Esperanza” is more of a easy-going sea lion. Whenever comes to feeding time, instead of rushing toward the fish like “Mark”, “Esperanza” always took her time to check around with curiousity, then approach to the fish. After 2 weeks feeding her fish in the water bowl, I started to notice that “Esperanza” was getting attach to the it. She started to play with the blow even though there was no fish inside and showed great interest to all the color plastic container such as water buckets! Therefore we decided to get “Esperanza” into water to check her ability at the next level of rehab, also to asses her willingness of eating fish inside water. When we got her into the pool, “Esperanza” was swimming happily and smoothly. However, she shown no interest to the fish inside the pool and kept looking for the plastic bowl! what to do?
In order to get her ready for release, we had to help her to rebuild the connection between water and fish, something we do at ORCA with previous sea lions as part of the rehab process. Instead of thinking about plastic bowl=fish, she needs to know that it should be water=fish.
This is a very interesting process. First, we started with adding extra water with fish. After she got use to the feeling of fish within water, we switched to a much bigger container so that she had to submerge her head in water to get fish. When all these process is completed, we placed the fish with plastic bowl on the surface of a swimming pool. The fish felt into the water when she try to get the fish. So she will get to practice getting and eating fish in the water, just like what they usually do in the wild!
A sea lion is such intelligent creature! It only took “Esperanza” 3 days to complete the whole process. Then she’s completely ready for release!!! We released her at a beach that is one hour drive from Lima downtown, called Asia, in front of an island where sea lions live. It only took her a few minutes to check on the wave. Then she just ran right into the water and swam off!  I’m so happy and excited watching her go back to where she belong!
My time with “Esperanza” was a ray of HOPE for sea lions (actually ‘esperanza’ means ‘hope’ in Spanish)…I stayed for four months more after her release, and enjoyed every single sea lion, but “Esperanza” is very special to me now and forever.
Written by IAN (Xiang Zhang), ORCA Volunteer from China, Winter 2015.

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