A new set of flippers is splashing up seawater in the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Seal and Sea Lion Exhibit. Koa the California sea lion brings energy to the 95,000 gallon pool that makes him hard to miss.
“Koa has such an expressive face,” said Brittany Blades, who is the animal’s primary trainer and a mammalogist at the Aquarium. “When he is excited about a training session, his eyes are open and bright and he is very attentive. If he is ready to do something different, his eyes glaze over and he starts looking around for a distraction.”
The 9 year old sub-adult male moved from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California to Newport in March.
He spent the next seven months learning the Aquarium’s training program and setting the stage for successful integration into the Aquarium’s existing collection of pinnipeds. The exhibit was already home to eight harbor seals and three California sea lions, and their acceptance of Koa was important for his long-term wellbeing.
A crucial step to this journey was Koa’s introduction to Max, a 25 year old male California sea lion that has lived at the Aquarium since it opened in 1992. The Aquarium’s mammalogists started planning and preparations before Koa arrived to ensure the two males would get along swimmingly.
When the time for their first encounter arrived, the entire Mammal Department stood ready with eager anticipation. The gate opened, and Max waddled through to join Koa in the main holding pool. The two sniffed and followed each other around the pool while Max bellowed his iconic sea lion bark above and under water. Animals have minds of their own, so plans are difficult to make where they are concerned, but Max and Koa’s behavior was exactly what the Aquarium’s team hoped for.
Koa’s progress moved smoothly in the following weeks. He responded well to relocation of his feeding station and seeing Aquarium visitors through the acrylic.
Aquarium visitors can now spot Koa during daily Sea Lion Feeding Presentations or any time at the windows that peer into the exhibit. He sports two dark spots between his shoulders, distinguishing him from the other sleek brown sea lions on exhibit.