Lucky Seal Survivor Now Calls Taronga Home
Friday 19th December 2008

A rare juvenile New Zealand Fur Seal which was attacked by a shark has survived against all odds to find a new home at Taronga Zoo's Great Southern Oceans exhibit.

The youngster, named 'Ronnie', was bought to Taronga Zoo's Wildlife Hospital by National Parks and Wildlife Services in July after being found at Norah Head with severe wounds extending across its back and along the left hand side of its body.

Closer inspection by veterinary staff at Taronga Zoo found the wounds appeared to have been made by a Cookie Cutter Shark, which carve out circular plugs of flesh from large fish, whales and seals.

Taronga Zoo Wildlife Nurse, Amy Twentyman, said: "Without medical treatment the young seal would have died, but right from the start he was very confident and we hoped this tenacity and lots of tender loving care would bring him back from the brink."

Ronnie's treatment was extensive with the New Zealand Fur Seal given antibiotics and pain relief while his wounds were thoroughly cleaned and checked many times every day. 

"Due to the terrible wounds, it was over three weeks until Ronnie could enter the water. For a marine mammal this is quite a long time and when he moved from intensive care to his rehabilitation pool he excitedly did somersaults, obviously enjoying the feeling of water on his body again."

Due to his shark injuries and long rehabilitation Ronnie was unable to be released back into the open ocean but luckily found a home at Taronga's new marine exhibit Great Southern Oceans.

Since graduating from hospital Ronnie, who was named after the ORCA representative who found him stranded at Norah Heads, has settled in exceptionally well and despite being the youngest of all of the Zoo's seals is the most self-assured. He now tips the scales at 13 kilograms, with his favourite food being squid.

Initially Ronnie has been working with his dedicated keeper, Nick Boyle, to build up a strong relationship between them. It is important that the Zoo's seals and their keepers have a strong bond and trust one another implicitly so that simple health checks such as examining their teeth and flippers can be performed regularly and easily.

Ronnie has also just started making cameo appearances in the Zoo's educational Seal Show presented daily where the keepers recount the Ronnie's amazing story of survival and the many pressures our marine life face in the open oceans.

The youngster has also started to meet and socialise with the other seals at Great Southern Oceans. So far he has only met Tathra, the Zoo's oldest seal, which is also a New Zealand Fur Seal. Tathra was also rescued from a beach and rehabilitated at the Wildlife Hospital. Once Ronnie develops a strong relationship with Tathra, he will slowly be introduced to the rest of the Zoo's magnificent seals.

The New Zealand Fur Seal is found in Tasmania, West Australia, South Australia and New Zealand. The species is listed as rare under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 due to their low numbers. Only a few thousand may remaining in waters around Tasmania.

Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos care for 4,000 animals from over 350 species, provide conservation messages to over 1.5 million visitors and conservation education to over 100,000 school students annually.  Taronga Zoo's Wildlife hospital regularly treats marine animals restoring them to health including penguins, and endangered Green Turtles, Hawksbill Turtles and Loggerhead Turtles.