updated 07/23/2012 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 07/24/2012 AT 9:00 AM ET
Whirlybird, a California sea lion, was shot in the face by an unknown assailant and found stranded on a public Santa Cruz, Calif., beach in July. The malnourished marine mammal was lethargic when approached by rescuers.
He was immediately taken to Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center where an X-ray showed metal fragments where his right eye used to be – the scars of a gunshot wound that robbed him of his sight.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported Whirlybird’s story, he is the fourth California sea lion to be taken to the center with a gunshot wound this year.
“We don’t know why people would want to shoot these animals, but it is illegal,” Jim Oswald, a spokesman for the center, tells PEOPLE, adding that fishermen shoot at the marine mammals because they are competing for fish. “But there’s also other people that viciously shoot at these animals and they don’t have any motive.”
Now recovered from his ordeal, Whirlybird swims happily, is healthy, and is bunking with two roommates (another blind sea lion named Old Ray and a young sea lion named Mr. Peppy) at the center until a more permanent home can be found at a zoo or aquarium. Unfortunately, he’ll never be able to live in the wild again.
“He’s doing fine despite being blind,” says Oswald. “He’s eating close to 7 lbs. of herring a day. He needs assistance to track the fish in his pool, obviously, but he does well with it.”
To learn more about how you can help the center feed sea lions like Whirlybird, click here.
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