WHEN PEPPER MET ROCKY

Aquarium in Cape CodThis is the story of how Pepper met Rocky... We had been looking for a partner for Rocky for some time and after one of our American visitors, who had heard about Rocky during one of our feed talks, had contacted New England Aquarium, we found the ideal partner. Pepper was in an Aquarium in Cape Cod which had closed down and she was looking for a new home.

It took many months of planning and paper work to arrange for Pepper's travel from the United States of America, but by the middle of December 1992, we had arranged everything and British Airways had agreed to fly her over along with Kathy Kreeger, the Curator of Marine Mammals at New England Aquarium (the aquarium given the responsibility of rehoming Cape Cod’s sea lions) and Kim Zirpolo, one of her handlers. At the time of Pepper's arrival, Mike Thomas was our Manager, James Barnett was our Vet and Don Buick was one of our Groundsman and Driver.

The date of her arrival was fixed; Thursday 17th of December 1992. The plane was going to land at 8am in the morning, so Mike, Don and James set off at midnight in order to arrive at Heathrow in plenty of time. It’s a good time to drive up from Cornwall, as some of you probably know, and they rapidly made progress up the motorway, which was just as well, since they found finding their way to the correct cargo terminal a bit of a nightmare. It did, however, lull Don and James into a false sense of security when it came to the return trip, which was to take a little longer.Pepper at Heathrow

The plane duly landed on time and Mike, Don and James welcomed Kathy and Kim to a grey and drizzly England. Within an hour, Mike and James were allowed to inspect Pepper, who had spent the flight in the sealed but well ventilated hold of the British Airway’s jet. She seemed none the worse for her ordeal and looked much more awake than her two handlers after the long flight.

It took a couple of hours for customs to clear Pepper, but finally Don, Kim and James drove off in the landrover to follow the truck which had been hired for the carriage of Pepper to Cornwall. Mike and Kathy travelled ahead in the minibus with Barry Williams who was filming the whole event. The convoy stopped twice en route, to allow the truck drivers their regulation stop offs, and also to inspect Pepper. The maximum speed was 50 miles an hour and it took over 7 hours to get back to Gweek. However, Pepper made the journey without any problem.

Pepper saying hello to Rocky on 17th December 1992On arrival at the Sanctuary that evening, James, Don and Mike were greeted by an army of staff, all eager to catch a glimpse of the new arrival. Kathy, who had already arrived, was a little concerned that Pepper might escape from her new pool, so the staff had to empty the nursery pool next to Rocky to house Pepper overnight. As soon as Pepper entered the pool, she noticed Rocky and attempted to climb over the barrier to get in with him: it must have been love at first sight! Everyone watched for a while and then the staff finally left them alone for the night.

Everyone arrived the following morning wondering what they would find. Sure enough, the two were contentedly side by side in the same pool. Everyone scratched their heads, the sea lions looked very happy together, but there was a press call due an hour later with five camera crews arriving, all expecting to see Pepper and Rocky meeting for the “first” time. It became a bit of a scramble, but by the time the press arrived, the staff had managed to separate the two, and had began the task of moving them both to their new pool across the road, where they were to be “introduced”. Pepper was caged up easily enough, but Rocky was not having it.Rocky and Pepper

At about 250kg, if Rocky didn’t want to move, then that is where he would stay, so the staff had to settle on an opening of the gate between the two nursery pools as an introduction for the press. When they were introduced, it was as though they had met before, "they must have been made for each other" we told one of the reporters.

Pepper saying hello to Rocky on 18th December 1992Over the next few days, Rocky and Pepper were housed together in nursery pool number 1. Kim began to teach Malcolm Dunn and Courtney Eustice, our animal keepers, how to feed Pepper and it was quite amusing watching the two of them hyping up their feeding routine in order to encourage Pepper to feed “in the manner to which she had become accustomed”, Stateside.

Pepper, who had not fed properly for a while before she came over, was very reluctant to eat. Rocky was paying her a large amount of interest and by the end of the first week, James Barnett decided that he needed to separate the two for a while, if the sanctuary were going to get her feeding properly.

Pepper was duly housed in the new pool and finally, on Christmas Day, she began to feed, taking over twenty mackerel out of Courtney’s hand. From that point on, she never looked back and soon she was feeding from the water. Early in January 1993, Rocky and Pepper were reunited in the new pool.

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