Harbor Seal Rescued by SeaWorld® Undergoes Eye Surgery

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A Pacific harbor seal recently rescued by SeaWorld® San Diego underwent cataract removal surgery Wednesday (Aug. 1, 2012) at Eye Care for Animals in Tustin, Calif.  SeaWorld veterinarians and animal rescue team hope the surgery will restore her eyesight enough so that she can forage for food on her own and eventually be returned to the wild.

The young harbor seal (estimated to be four months old) was rescued by SeaWorld on South Mission Beach on June 13 after she was found dehydrated and malnourished.  During an initial exam, SeaWorld’s animal rescue team noticed cataracts in both eyes and later determined that she was functionally blind and could not catch fish.  At the time of her stranding, she was about 30 percent underweight, presumably because her lack of vision prevented her from foraging for food. 

SeaWorld veterinarian Dr. Hendrik Nollens consulted with a veterinary ophthalmologist, who confirmed her diagnosis and agreed to perform the surgery.  Dr. Doug Esson, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists, removed the cataracts at the Eye Care for Animals facility. Cataract surgery has only sporadically been performed in seals, and in this case several particularly cutting edge techniques as well as state-of-the-art equipment were employed.

The surgery was successful and the harbor seal is recovering in the park’s animal care center.  SeaWorld’s animal care team is monitoring her closely, putting drops in her eyes, hand feeding her, and, for the first few days, keeping her out of the water until the incisions in her eyes have healed. If she gains sufficient eye sight to catch live fish, the seal is likely to be returned to the wild. 

The goal of SeaWorld’s Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Program is to return medically treated and nursed-to-health rescued animals to the wild—giving them a second chance at life.  So far this year, SeaWorld has rescued 102 marine mammals.  On average, SeaWorld rescues and treats more than 300 marine mammals and birds each year.