Keepers were in the habit of giving the sea lions various toys to keep them occupied. A favorite toy was an ordinary kid’s rubber ball. The ball was small enough to fit in their mouths, and it floated. The sea lions would spend hours tossing the ball around or dragging it to the bottom of the pool and chasing it to the surface.
Occasionally, however, one of the sea lions would accidentally swallow one of the balls. The first few times this happened the keepers were concerned, but over the years they found that the animal would cough up the ball within a few days with no harm done.
The director was passing the pool one day and happened to see one of the sea lions swallow a ball. He notified the keepers of what had happened. and told them that he wanted to sedate the animal and remove the ball surgically. The keepers explained that this had happened before and the animal would be fine in a few days. The director was unconvinced, but eventually he agreed to a compromise—if the ball hadn’t shown up in two days they would operate.
Keepers kept a sharp eye out for the ball but as the deadline approached there was no sign of it. Finally, still convinced that the surgery was unnecessary, they found another ball identical to the one that the sea lion had eaten and secretly threw it into the pool.
When the director saw the ball he agreed that the keepers had been correct and canceled the surgery. And a few days later, as they had predicted all along, the keepers found the original ball floating in the pool and the sea lion in perfect health.