Remembering the Time a Sea Lion Escaped Providence’s Roger Williams Zoo
It has been 75 years since the great Providence sea lion escape, but the story is still just as crazy as it was back then. In 1946, a sea lion named Rhonda really did escape Roger Williams Park Zoo never to be heard from again. So how the heck does that happen? We just had to find out.
If you have been to Roger Williams Park recently, then you have likely seen the Seal House just to the right of the rotary on the way to the zoo. And though it is named "Seal House," it was actually home to six sea lions back in 1938.
The Seal House opened in June of 1938, just one of many open animal exhibits throughout the park grounds. There was a movement at the time to take the cages out of the zoo experience and Roger Williams Park was at the forefront of that movement. Back in the day they had deer and sheep roaming and grazing the park grounds, a monkey island surrounded by a moat and the Seal House designed for crowds to gather around the massive mammals at any given time.
Only one Seal House guest did not want to stay. Rhonda was a female sea lion who had been at the zoo for years, but apparently, she wasn't that into her home. One Tuesday afternoon in 1946, Rhonda managed to break free of the Seal House enclosure and make her way to some of the other park lakes nearby – but that wasn't enough space for Rhonda.
According to a 1946 report in the Providence Journal, Rhonda "flipped over land and through the water to Pawtuxet Cove." That cove is over two miles from the Seal House! Just picture a sea lion flopping through an urban neighborhood in 1946.
Yet that still wasn't enough. Rhonda then put on a show for onlookers as she evaded her would-be captors and swam into the Providence River. Sources say she headed out to Narragansett Bay and was never seen again. Crazy.
If this courageous sea lion doesn't sound amazing enough yet, that same Journal article added that "in her effort to escape Rhonda climbed a three-foot wall and a three-foot fence." She must have really wanted out, though considering the average female sea lion is between five and six and a half feet long, standing on her back flippers to get over those three-foot heights doesn't seem that far fetched.
Rhonda's story may now just be Roger Williams Park legend, but the memory of the sea lions and their time at the zoo has been immortalized in statues and signage at the still standing Seal House for modern day guests to enjoy.