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Nila the sea lion. (Photo courtesy of Glen)
Nila the sea lion. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Letterman)

The new year is bringing a new attraction to the Long Island Aquarium.

Nila, a California sea lion who was brought to the aquarium in mid-July, has recently become viewable to the public, but only if the temperature is above 32 degrees, according to Candy Paparo, director of animal training at the aquarium.

“She’s adjusting wonderfully,” Paparo said. “She’s getting used to her trainers, trusting us and getting used to different toys for her enrichment. Over the last month or so she’s been getting used to her full-time tank mates, Java and Bunker.”

Even though she is settling in, Paparo described Nila as a little shy. 

“She can be timid sometimes, which is the reason she was non-releasable, but she’s doing great,” Paparo said. “She takes some time but does get used to things and has been progressing in training.”

Nila was found malnourished, dehydrated and emaciated in California on March 17, 2014. At nine months old she weighed only 18 pounds, whereas a healthy sea lion pup of that age should weigh between 40 to 50 pounds.

She was rescued and cared for by Channel Island Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIWMI) in Santa Barbara, California.

“Although not an endangered animal, for the past two years, there has been an increase in the amount of distressed sea lion pups washing ashore in California,” an aquarium press release states. “Research is ongoing, but it is thought that a change in the availability of normal sea lion prey, especially sardines, is a factor in the number of strandings that were seen last year and again this year.”

A page was created over the summer with hopes of raising $7,000 to help fund the round trip to California to retrieve Nila. According to the webpage approximately $1,700 was raised.

“The money was helpful in transporting her,” Ms. Paparo said. “We had to fly across the U.S. It’s costly to have to transport an animal like that.”

As a rescued animal, Nila has a greater purpose at the aquarium than solely providing entertainment for the customers.

“She is now joining the family of animal ambassadors that inspire and educate customers to help wild animals and make [customers] aware of the perils animals in the wild face, such as pollution and deforestation,” Paparo said.

The Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center is located at 431 East Main Street in Riverhead.