Dear (Nabob) -
The sign you are referring to has been in the Valley in some form for at least 25 years. The seal did not die at National Zoo - it was a photo from somewhere else but I don't know where it originated (possibly here?It is a graphic example of the consequences of throwing objects into enclosures (especially marine mammal pools), and is there to grab the attention of the visitor hopefully before they toss that coin for good luck.
Ingestion of foreign objects is a problem in many facilities, and if it occurs it often results in the death of the animal. I can think of a couple of animals from other facilities that have died as a result of eating trash within the past year. It also occurs in animals in the wild - for example, marine mammals mistakenly eating plastic bags and balloons, or being entangled in plastic loops or fishing gear. They sometimes end up in a rehabilitation facility, but more often they simply die at sea. Entanglement is also a common problem at landfills and trash dumps. That is why we advise visitors to our sea lion demonstration to be cautious with the way they dispose of their trash - both at the zoo and at their homes.
Thank you for your interest, and for taking the time to write. Now you, too, can help us educate people about this tragic probem!
Nice Science Lady
Biologist - Animal Department
National Zoological Park
There you have it, a real person with a real response. You forget that in a city where just about every piece of information needs a FOYA (FOIA), sometimes there are nice people on the other end.