Seal returns to ocean after eye surgery

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SAN DIEGO – The blind harbor seal, who underwent eye surgery, was released back into the ocean Wednesday.

The seal named “Iris” has been in the Pacific Ocean before, but as she returned to it Wednesday, she saw it for the first time.

SeaWorld returns a rescued, blind harbor seal to the ocean after performing eye surgery on her.

“She was functionally blind, she had no vision in either eye which explains the problems she was having out there catching fish, functioning and surviving,” SeaWorld veterinarian Dr. Hendrik Nollens said.

SeaWorld staff rescued Iris as a pup in June.  She had lost her mother and she was starving.

“We were going off of clues. The first one was – does she see us? If we walk up to the pool quietly can she see that we’re there. Then, we build up gradually from there – can she see live fish?” Nollens said.

It turns out she had cataracts, the vet said.

SeaWorld teamed up with veterinary ophthalmologists from Tustin to perform an unprecedented surgery.

They used the same technique that is used on humans, but it had never been done before on a seal.

Getting released into the ocean near Point Loma was a long journey in itself.

Vets tested her vision several times in different pools to make sure she could handle it. She’s also returning to the wild with a special piece of headgear.

SeaWorld researchers will be able to keep tabs on Iris’ progress using a global positioning system radio transmitter until next spring.  Her habits, where she goes and how she adapts to the wild will be monitored.

“We’ll be able to monitor her and we’ll be able to find out how she’s doing. It also gives us the ability to go down and check on her. If we know where she is on the beach we can have people go down and see what her body condition is.”

They will also be able to learn more about the species as a whole.

Iris is a small harbor seal with a big support system behind her.  Her success story will help SeaWorld scientists help other animals with similar injuries.

“The mission of our program is to return these animals [to the wild] and give them a second chance and we’re definitely doing that with her,” Nollens said.


  • reefannie

    I'm not so sure I agree with the 'unusual head gear'. Poor thing has been through enough. Why not just insert or use a tag on her flipper? If she has to teach herself to hunt, how will this head gear be helpful for that?

  • Brian B.

    This is a good news and I'm happy on how events turned out for Iris. And I hope, her success story will encourage more SeaWorld scientists to help more cases like hers. This could also be an inspiring story to people who has vision problems and eye doctors as well to help more patients improve their visions.

  • drviraldesai777

    I am a Cosmetic and Plastic Surgeon based in India, Eyelid Surgery is not an easy procedure it needs lots of understanding of the patients condition. This surgery on seal must have been amazing right? I appreciate the kind of work you people are doing keep it up. Even animals have full rights to enjoy and see their world in a better way

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