After more than five months in rehabilitative care at SeaWorld San Diego – and a successful surgery -- a rescued harbor seal was returned to the ocean Wednesday.
SeaWorld’s animal rescue team and the SeaWorld-Hubbs Researcher Institute returned Iris, a 47-pound female harbor seal, to the Pacific Ocean.
The approximately 7-month-old seal was rescued by SeaWorld on South Mission Beach back on June 13. She was found dehydrated and malnourished, and had severe vision problems that prevented her from being able to catch fish.
SeaWorld rescue experts noticed cataracts in both of Iris’ eyes and determined she was functionally blind. Presumably, her lack of vision prevented her from foraging food in the wild, leading to her being underweight.
A veterinary ophthalmologist confirmed the diagnosis and performed eye surgery on the seal. The cataracts were removed on Aug. 1.
According to the SeaWorld animal rescue team, this type of cataract surgery has only been performed in seals sporadically, using cutting-edge techniques and state-of-the-art equipment.
In Iris’ case, the surgery was successful and she has spent the last three months recovering at SeaWorld.
Caretakers put drops in her eyes, hand-fed her and kept her out of the water until the incisions in her eyes healed.
Since June, the seal has regained sufficient vision and 30 pounds. She also demonstrated the ability to catch fish and forage for food, the rescue team said. Caretakers saw this as a sign that Iris was able to return to the wild.
But Iris is still being monitored.
Prior to being released into the Pacific Ocean, research biologist Dr. Brent Stewart affixed a satellite transmitter to the seal so her movement can be traced. The transmitter will eventually fall off once she molts in a few months.