Handicapped Sea Lion Thrives At Denver Zoo

Sea Lion Missing Rear Flippers

In many ways, Bismarck is like the other four sea lions at the Denver Zoo. He is playful and inquisitive, limber and acrobatic. But Bismarck is also a little bit different. He is missing his rear flippers.

Found orphaned by a pier at Newport Beach, Calif., Bismarck was brought to the Denver Zoo on a chartered plane on July 28. He was rescued in March by the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

“Bismarck is a great example of overcoming a disability – something we’re very happy to talk about here at Denver Zoo," said Zookeeper Jessica Jenkins. "We’ve had a couple of children with disabilities who have connected with him after seeing how agile he is, despite his disability. I think he is inspiring and reminds all of us that we have great potential to overcome adversity,"

After months behind the scenes, getting to know his new caretakers and the other sea lions, Bismarck is making his public debut. He now can be seen in the outdoor harbor seal/sea lion pool.

It isn't known why Bismarck doesn't have rear flippers. Sea lions typically use their front flippers for propulsion through the water, and their rear flippers for steering. Zoo officials say Bismarck uses his front flippers and his back end to maneuver, and he is moving just fine. His front flippers are considerably more muscular than other sea lions.

When Bismarck was found, he was estimated to be 6 to 8 months old and weighed a mere 24 pounds. He now tops the scale at a healthy 132 pounds. Full grown, he could reach 300 to 400 pounds. And he'll likely stay at the Denver Zoo.

Because of Bismarck’s physical challenges, he is not a candidate for release back into the wild.