For Release: February 10, 2004
Contact: Peper Long 202-673-0206
Note to Editors:
Re: Clarification of 2003 sea lion euthanasia
On Nov. 14, 2003, National Zoo veterinarians and animal-care staff euthanized an elderly male sea lion due to persistent coughing, wheezing and labored breathing. The decision to euthanize was a joint decision made by veterinarians, curators and keepers.
A news release from the Zoo's office of public affairs cited pneumonia as the reason for the decision to euthanize. However, a recently completed pathology report showed the cause of the animal's deteriorated condition was likely a malfunction of the larynx, such as a spasm or paralysis of the muscles. While the pneumonia and respiratory tract inflammation had improved following a three-month course of antibiotics, the sea lion continued to have difficulty breathing.
According to the final pathology report, the precise cause of the animal's persistent labored breathing is not known. The malfunction of the larynx cannot be confirmed post-mortem because the muscles of the larynx no longer move.
Diagnosing a malfunctioning larynx in sea lions is extremely difficult and risky, as the diagnostic procedure requires anesthesia to insert a scope to observe the larynx.
Norman, as he was known to Zoo staff, weighed nearly 600 pounds and was 26 years old. California sea lions live off the Pacific coast from British Columbia to Baja California, and have a life span of approximately 20 years.