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    Harpo, Aquarium of the Pacific sea lion, described as gentle and friendly, dies
    • July 1, 2023

    The Aquarium of the Pacific is down one of its residents after a 17-year-old California sea lion died recently.

    The Long Beach aquarium announced on Friday night, June 30, that Harpo, a male sea lion that spent most of its life at the facility, had died the previous evening.

    The cause of death is unknown. Since Harpo didn’t live in the wild, it seems unlikely that the deadly coastal algae blooms that have stricken sea lions up and down the California coast was the reason.

    Toxic algae blooms occur periodically off the coast, usually in the spring, and sicken marine mammals, including sea lions and dolphins. The Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach have been overwhelmed with sick sea lions in recent weeks. The animals arrive malnourished and disoriented — the toxins affect the animals’ brains — and many experience seizures. The animals can die with irreversible brain damage.

    Female sea lions can live to be 18 to 25 years old, while males typically live slightly less than that, the aquarium said in a Friday press release. But it wasn’t immediately clear if that lifespan is for those in the wild, in captivity or both.

    In May, the press release said, Harpo’s appetite lessened. He became lethargic and had trouble moving around. Since then, the aquarium said, Harpo had been receiving treatments and undergoing tests, but to no avail.

    “This included medicine, fluids, one-on-one sessions to offer him restaurant-quality seafood, and ongoing veterinary exams, including radiographs, ultrasounds, and a whole body CT scan,” the press release said. “Despite extensive tests to try to figure out what was causing Harpo symptoms, test results had been within normal ranges and had not revealed further information about the cause of his symptoms.”

    The aquarium’s veterinary team and outside specialists will examine Harpo’s body to determine a cause of death, the press release said.

    California sea lions live as far north as Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, and as far south as Baja California, Mexico, the aquarium said.

    Harpo, though, was born in captivity and came to Long Beach in 2007 as a 1-year-old.

    His death came just days before the Aquarium of the Pacific debuted its renovated Southern California Gallery to help celebrate the facility’s 25th anniversary. That gallery, with 10 exhibits, is intended to give aquarium visitors an opportunity to learn about dozens of local species, including the California two-spot octopus, and leopard and horn sharks.

    The gallery is slated to open to the public on Saturday, July 1.

    Aquarium staff, meanwhile, were left reeling by Harpo’s death.

    “Harpo was loved for what our team calls his sweet and goofy personality that put people and even other animals at ease,” Brett Long, the aquarium’s senior director of mammals and birds, said in a statement. “Harpo would make people smile as he would interact with staff or with guests.

    “Due to his gentle nature, he was often the first one new sea lions and seals would meet when they would join the habitat, including a baby seal who was born here,” Long added. “We will miss him so much.”

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    ​ Orange County Register