Sea lion shot in the head remains in critical but stable condition

A California sea lion remains in critical but stable condition at Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center on Friday after being found on a beach with a gunshot wound to his head, a spokesman for the center said.

Silent Knight — named for his regal demeanor with a nod to the holiday season — is receiving painkillers and is going to be under close observation by on-site veterinarians for the next 24 to 72 hours, spokesman Jim Oswald said.

The 7-foot sea lion, which weighs a bit more than 330 pounds, was found by passersby on a beach along a waterfront in the southern end of Sausalito around 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening suffering from a gunshot wound to his head, Oswald said.

The gunshot wound — which is centered on the animal’s eyes — is apparently his only injury with the exception of malnourishment and dehydration, Oswald said.

“His right eye is basically destroyed, good portions of it are missing,” Oswald said.

The sea lion’s left eye is still intact, but internal swelling of the tissues around the eye socket have swollen it shut, Oswald said. It is too early to tell if he will be completely blind as a result of his injuries or will only lose sight in his right eye, Oswald said.

Vets at the center have not yet performed any surgeries on Silent Knight, but did take X-rays on Thursday that indicated he has “extensive” damage from the buckshot fired at him — about six or seven pellet fragments are lodged in his head, Oswald said.

Doctors decided not to remove the pellets, two of which are dangerously close to Silent Knight’s brain and left eye and threaten to cause massive internal bleeding and swelling, Oswald said.

Close observation over the next couple days, as well as ultrasounds to check on the wellness of the tissue around the mammal’s wounds, will indicate the best course of treatment for Silent Knight.<br>
Oswald said sea lions are “hardy animals,” and have been known to survive in the wild with gunshot pellets in their heads — as well as partial or even full blindness. He said that Silent Knight probably could too if the implanted buckshot fragments don’t cause additional internal trauma.

Silent Knight is the ninth marine mammal to be treated at the Sausalito center this year for gunshot wounds, Oswald said. That is a decrease from last year’s count of 19 gunshot victims, he said.

The majority of victims received at the center are California sea lions, Oswald said, but other species injured included elephant seals and harbor seals.

Many people view the animals as “nuisances” to human seafaring, and in northern waters they are often shot due to competition with humans for fish, Oswald said.

“The big thing is we have to figure out how to share the environment with these animals,” Oswald said. “This is their ocean home.”

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