Sunny days ahead for Shedd's Laguna

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Executive Vice-President of animal care and training, Ken Ramirez, introduces us to Laguna, the Shedd Aquarium's latest acquisition. (Posted on: July 24, 2013)

The aquarium "made the decision a while back to be a male holding faciliy primarily because males can be (thought) difficult to manage," says Ramirez. "The reality is males are not that difficult to manage if you have no females in the facility. What causes males to be difficult is the tendency to compete for the attention of the females."

Three of the four already there are rescued animals, including last year's arrival, Cruz, blinded after suffering gunshot wounds.

The big difference for Cruz, who spent much of Tuesday in the public display tank across from the beluga whales, is that trainers have outfitted his target — the red ball on the end of a stick that the animals learn to follow — with a rattle. Other animals know color and shape; he knows sound.

Staffers hope that Cruz and Laguna, as similar-sized animals, will prove compatible to live together.

But Laguna isn't ready for the public yet. He is just beginning to learn behaviors that will include following the red ball target; responding to a specific shape and color card — his "name tag," which in his case is a yellow and black diamond shape; and opening his eyes and mouth and lying down on command to allow for medical examination.

Ramirez expects that Laguna could be on view this fall and a fully trained participant in the aquarium's animal shows next year. In the shows, the sea lions demonstrate their training and give staffers an opportunity to talk about rescue and rehab efforts.

For now, though, the pup, who won't reach physical maturity until his teens, has just completed medical quarantine, and the blinders on his pen have been partially removed so he can adjust to the other animals. He gets a diet of herring, capelin and a colored, calorie-free Jell-o that helps with hydration.

Tuesday, he tossed about his last, smelt-like capelin from a morning feeding for many minutes, a typical behavior that can last hours.

There's a chance, says Ramirez, that Laguna's growth may be stunted due to a lack of nutrition at critical moments of his development. But, he says, "other than that he seems to be in reasonably good health."

And, adds Schaaf, there's this: "He's pretty darn cute. He is so full of spunk and he's quite a character. He's going to be just a great addition."

sajohnson@tribune.com

Twitter@StevenKJohnson

'One World' aquatic show

When: Multiple times daily

Where: Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago. sheddaquarium.org, (312) 939-2438

Tickets: $5 upgrade to Shedd Pass, which costs $28.95 for adults

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