A seal named Coolio has been at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium since 2014, but visitors have hardly seen him, primarily because he can hardly see at all.
However, after a couple of years of acclimating and bonding with his keepers, the northern elephant seal has made his debut in the Water’s Edge exhibit in the aquarium.
“We knew it would take time,” said Paul Moylett, curator of aquatic life. “We wanted Coolio to enter his new exhibit on his own time.”
Coolio was rescued from a California beach, where he was found malnourished, with significant injuries to his eyes, the zoo said. The rescue group asked the Pittsburgh zoo if he could recuperate there, and they agreed.
Keepers and veterinarians worked extensively with Coolio, who is blind in his left eye and has only some peripheral vision in his right eye. They taught him verbal and visual cues to make communication easier.
A key part of the transition to Water’s Edge involved creating an environment in which Coolio would feel comfortable. He was first introduced to a deeper tank outside, and he soon became so comfortable there that he’d sunbathe on the deck.
Keepers wanted to mimic some of the sounds he would hear when he went on exhibit, so they played different radio stations at different volumes and encouraged visitors to talk around the seal.
Eventually keepers opened the door to the outside beach area in Water’s Edge and encouraged Coolio to explore.
“He surprised us when he came out onto the beach and almost immediately went into the water,” Moylett said.
And now visitors can see for themselves how far Coolio’s come during his time in Pittsburgh.
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