Minnesota Zoo Media Contact

If you are a member of the press, please contact: Josh Le
Communications and Media Relations Manager
Minnesota Zoo
13000 Zoo Boulevard
Apple Valley, MN 55124
952.431.9534 direct
952.250.7293 mobile
[email protected]

Apple Valley, MINN – December 21, 2017 – The Minnesota Zoo works every day to provide world-class care to all 4,800+ animals on-site. On Thursday, November 9, two female Hawaiian monk seals – Koa and Opua – had eye surgeries performed by Dr. Carmen Colitz a veterinary ophthalmologist who specializes in marine mammal eye procedures. Dr. Jim Rasmussen, senior veterinarian at the Minnesota Zoo brought together and oversaw the team consisting of  Dr. Colitz, Dr. James Bailey, a veterinary anesthesiologist specializing in marine mammal anesthesiology, veterinary staff from the University of Minnesota veterinary anesthesiology department and Minnesota Zoo veterinary staff. The procedures were successful with actual surgical times of approximately 1 hour per eye, however the total time of anesthesia for the animals was significantly longer due to preparation for and recovery from surgery.

“We are very pleased with how smoothly the surgeries went,” says Dr. Rasmussen. “We are fortunate to be able to work with the specialists like Dr. Colitz and Dr. Bailey to provide these seals with these life-changing surgeries.”

The Minnesota Zoo’s Marine Mammal curator, Melanie Oerter says, “The marine mammal staff have been monitoring the seals closely and are happy that both seals appear to be doing well and healing properly.” She continues, “They are now both back in the water and may be seen swimming around their pools.”

The Minnesota Zoo is home to five geriatric female Hawaiian monk seals, all of which were rescued as juveniles in the wild off the coast of Hawaii. Four of the five seals have visual impairments.  These surgeries were performed to prevent future problems and hopefully improve vision in the animals. The recovery stage was estimated to take three to four weeks, and so far Zoo staff are cautiously optimistic that Koa and Opua will make a full recoveries. Koa may even regain her sight partially, if not fully. Due to lack of function and observed discomfort, one of Opua’s eyes was removed during her surgery and she appears more comfortable. Zoo staff will continue to closely monitor the seals to ensure they are healing properly, but their conditions seem healthy and stable.

The current group of Hawaiian monk seals arrived at the Minnesota Zoo in 2015 and the Zoo is the only place outside of Hawaii where the general public can see these animals in in person. Hawaiian monk seals are critically endangered, with only an estimated 1,400 individuals left in the wild, and the only marine mammal endemic to the United States, only found along the coasts of the Hawaiian islands. You can learn more about Hawaiian monk seals and the Minnesota Zoo at www.mnzoo.org.

About the Minnesota Zoo
The Minnesota Zoo is a year-round destination located in Apple Valley, just minutes south of Mall of America. The Zoo’s mission is to connect people, animals and the natural world to save wildlife. For more information, call 952.431.9500 or visit mnzoo.org. The Minnesota Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and an institutional member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).