msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/4/2010 5:29:21 AM ET 2010-09-04T09:29:21

An 11-year-old boy was recovering Saturday after a sea lion mauled him at a popular Sydney zoo's aquarium show as horrified visitors looked on.

The boy, identified by his stepmother as Jack Lister, had been invited by zookeepers to meet the 8-year-old female sea lion during the Taronga Zoo's seal and sea lion show on Friday. After feeding the animal, Jack mistakenly followed it off the stage, which spooked it, zoo officials said.

The sea lion bit the boy and left several puncture wounds on his stomach. Jack had abdominal surgery Friday night and was in stable condition at a hospital.

Jack's stepmother, Dalitta Wright, told Sydney's Daily Telegraph in a story published Saturday that the attack was sudden.

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"I can only assume he was going for the smell of the fish. Jack pulled himself away and it then lunged for his back," said Wright, whose family was visiting Sydney from the northeast city of Cairns. "It all happened so quickly. ... It was quite traumatic."

His father, who was not identified, told the newspaper that the incident left Jack with a "dirty great hole in his belly".

Zoo officials said the sea lion had never shown aggressive behavior before, and they were investigating the attack. The seal show was scheduled to continue Saturday, without the "encounter" portion of the program — and without the sea lion involved in the attack.

Danielle McGill, a spokeswoman for the zoo, told the newspaper that the sea lion "had a flight or fight response and bit the boy."

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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