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Sea Lion dies at Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Calli passed away Sept. 7 at the age of 17. The median life expectancy for California sea lions is 15 to 20 years.

WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian's National Zoo announced the passing of their beloved California sea lion, Calli, in a heartfelt letter Thursday. Callie passed away Sept. 7 at the age of 17 at the zoo's Conservation Biology Institute. 

Calli was born in the wild in 2005. Only a few days old, her mother died after ingesting domoic acid. A year later, the sea lion was rescued and hand-raised by people and arrived at the zoo.

The sea lion was remembered by zookeepers as having a "calm and accepting personality" and was considered to be the leader of the zoo's colony. As a younger sea lion, Calli enjoyed playing with a small white tub and would flip it upside-down and wear it on her head while she swam around the habitat. 

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During her time at the National Zoo, Calli was recommended to breed with a male name Jetty, who later moved to Queens Zoo in New York. They had two pups. In 2016, Catalina was born, and she was the first sea lion pup born at the zoo in 32 years. Celia was born in 2019. Zookeepers described her as a "protective, attentive, and caring mother." 

American Trail keepers trained Calli to voluntarily participate in radiographs and ultrasounds with veterinarians as part of routine medical care. In May, an ultrasound confirmed Calli was pregnant, but months later, another ultrasound confirmed late-term fetal loss. 

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On Sept. 6, zoo veterinarians anesthetized Calli and performed a full exam on her; the exam turned out normal. Officials said in a statement, later that evening, that she behaved and ate normally. The next day, Sept. 7, zookeepers found her dead. The median life expectancy for California sea lions is 15 to 20 years. 

The zoo pathologist performed a necropsy on Calli and discovered she had lesions in the gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system.  A full pathology report will provide more information in the coming weeks, officials said. 

Sea lions are found in the wild from Baja Mexico to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, sea lions were once hunted for their skin.

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