Oceans of Fun Seal and Sea Lion Show at the Milwaukee County Zoo
is an outgrowth of Shelley Ballmann’s love for animals.
Ballmann was growing up in Aurora, Ill., she rescued squirrels,
raccoons and lizards, and nursed baby birds back to health. Her
neighbors knew she was the one to contact if a gosling flock was
missing its parents. "I was one of those kids who saved every
animal I came across," Ballmann says.
She also loved
going to the Brookfield Zoo, and absolutely adored the dolphin show.
Every chance she got, she’d hang out and talk with the trainers. One
of those trainers, in fact, steered her to Moorpark College in
California, where she majored in exotic animal training and
management, and minored in biology and psychology. When she graduated
she worked at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and at Zoovet
Productions, which contracted dolphin and sea lion shows throughout
the United States.
Ballmann, 50, is one of the foremost sea lion and seal experts in the
country. She owns Oceans of Fun, which provides seal and sea lion
programs at the Milwaukee County Zoo and in Hershey Park, Pa.
what I do as much today as I did 25 years ago," Ballmann says.
She began Oceans of Fun in 1991 with three animals; today there are 12
animals and 10 employees.
Oceans of Fun
also runs one of the most successful sea lion breeding programs in the
United States. "Our animals always come first in everything we
do, and we are dedicated to conservation," Ballmann says.
"These animals are not pets, they are ambassadors."
animals is key, she says, for people becoming more dedicated to
conservation and helping clean up the environment for marine mammal
survival. "As soon as people are able to touch a dolphin, a
connection is made," Ballmann says.
it’s not just about making connections with visitors. Ballmann and
her staff spend part of every winter in Punta, San Juan, to tag and
study fur seal pups in South America. And last November, Ballmann was
summoned to California to help rescue Nalu, a stranded sea lion pup.
Nalu, who is believed to have been born sometime in June 2013, was
stranded along the Santa Barbara coast in September. The National
Marine Fisheries estimate about 1,000 pups were stranded last year;
most of them were rehabilitated and released back in the wild. But
Nalu, who was still a nursing pup, could not be released, and he
required 24-hour care and supervision.
He’s now doing
quite well as part of the Oceans of Fun family. He joins Talise, who
was born last April to first-time mom Sonoma and dad Slick, and Colby,
who was born to mom Makaia in 2012. "It’s going to be a summer
of pup training," Ballmann says.