Popular, disabled sea lion at Denver Zoo dies during surgery

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DENVER -- The Denver Zoo is mourning the death of one of its five resident sea lions. Bismarck stood out from the crowd, as he had no back flippers. Bismarck came to the zoo in 2009 after he was rescued in California. He definitely made an impression on zoo visitors.

“We came here for a fifth grade field trip and he was just really special and really cool,” said Natalie Ayers. “You knew there was something different about him without or with the tail, but he was just really cool.”

“Bismarck, with his disability and being able to just show everybody how you can overcome challenges, certainly added an incredible element to his life and how he affected us,” said Brian Aucone, vice president of animal collections at the zoo.

Without those back flippers Bismarck had to carry all of his weight on his front flippers. Male sea lions can grow to be up to 1,000 lbs, so to prevent him from growing to full size and putting more strain on his body, veterinarians recently decided to neuter Bismarck. Unfortunately, he had a bad reaction to the anesthesia and died.

Seeing Bismarck splashing around doing everything the other sea lions could do was inspiring to many.

“There have been children with disabilities that have come out and Bismarck was certainly an inspiration for them that a disability doesn’t have to hold you back,” Aucone said.

Zoo veterinarians say marine mammals like sea lions face a greater risk from anesthesia than most animals because of how their bodies process oxygen and carbon dioxide. There are four other sea lions at the zoo, three females and one male.