Starting the new semester

Today’s Diary is sponsored by Pet Webinars

So today I started classes, this year is going be a little weird to me since I failed parasites last year – I’m basically repeating the 2 semesters of parasitology and taking a few of the 5th year modules at the same time. To be honest its nice to have a chance to breathe, however most of my free time this year will go towards my thesis and research papers in addition to extra time to review everything I have learnt over the past 2 years!

It does however also mean that I have time to keep my diary daily and to look for some additional funding (I need things like dentist, opticians, vaccinations etc) to cover things that I keep putting off. I’d also really like to get started with a video diary this year as well so looking for a decent camera!

Anyways onto today, first class of the new semester is Inspection and Control of Food Production. The lecturer is actually trying to make it fun and interesting (this is really appreciated and slightly unusual here!) however its all about the legislation and legal stuff in food production. Today was a general overview of the subject and the start of looking at the laws and legal framework. It is slightly interesting as we are looking at the EU regulations which for me is weird that the UK no longer has control over its own food production as it is done on a European level.

I guess this is going be a class that is a wait and see, tommorow is however going be a long day with a 7:15am start right through to 4:15pm with no proper breaks so I am going try and grab an early night! Upside is 3 hours of tommorow is all pathological anatomy practical so in the necropsy rooms!

The end of my marine mammal summer school

Well I am currently writing this as I sit on the train on my way to Munich to then keep going back towards Slovakia. There is a little stress as my train was delayed by 30 minutes which meant I would miss my connection to Budapest, however the previously delayed train arrived as the station staff were debating what to do with me. So at present I am on an delayed earlier train which is pretty much running at the same time as the train I am scheduled to be on.

So anyways, sadly my week long marine mammal summer school is over, I’m exhausted now (if I make my Munich connection I got a 9 hour journey to sleep!) however my brain is still buzzing with all the information that has been packed into it. Today was more about the studbook and population management programs. This is where the zoo environment can play a role In bringing species back into the wild. For example one of the first programs was for the black footed ferret which went extinct in the wild towards the end of the 1970’s. In 1985 a captive breeding program using 18 captive animals allowed the species to be reintroduced which I think is pretty cool. Obviously this was only possible as the environment for these animals was still there (unlike the environments now wiped out because of palm oil or deforestation).

The next talk was one I was pretty excited about, we had international marine mammal veterinary consultant Geraldine Lacave to teach us as much as she could about reproduction. Now this is an interesting topic, and one that uses a lot of specialised techniques. Salt water is actually lethal for sperm, and so dolphins for example have evolved a cervix which prevents the contamination of sperm with water. A lot of reproduction is monitoring and this is usually done with ultrasound – because of the size of muscles and blubber layers there are very specific acoustic windows that must be used for this on each species.

We then finished up with a look at the zoo’s and the public which was very interesting to get an inside perspective on. Whilst people have a right to protest, the question here was when it came to people protesting animal welfare, where did the staff welfare stand?

When marine mammals need fresh water too…

So today was all about nutrition, animal training and communication. When they say Wednesday is hump day this is exactly what they mean, I am sad the week is halfway over, yet I am exhausted as I struggled to sleep last night.

Anyways onto nutrition this morning we looked at the comparative anatomy between different marine species to start which was pretty amazing. I thought the differences between ruminants, equine and carnivores was crazy however the differences between seal species makes it seem like it was easy! We then moved onto nutrition with a very fast but comprehensive review of the different sources of nutrients and how preparation is also important before moving onto clinical nutrition. This was especially interesting as marine mammals suffer pretty similar diseases to terrestrial mammals in cases of low and insufficient minerals or vitamins, however too much can also be fatal through toxicity so it really is a balancing act.

What I think surprised me most was that marine mammals can suffer dehydration from not drinking enough! I guess I always thought as they live in water they are ok, however with dolphins for example their kidneys cannot desalinate (remove the salt from salt water) so without fresh water they suffer dehydration and the consequences of this. Now you may ask where they get fresh water from if they live in the sea, the majority of this actually comes from their food that is metabolised and broken down.

Something else that I also thought was very cool was that some seal and sealion species do not chew, when they are fed fish they swallow it headfirst. They even use their tongue to turn it around in their mouths if it is in the wrong direction! It has been suggested that in the wild dolphins will “chew” on a puffer fish to release the toxins which appear to be pleasurable for them.

Moving onto the afternoon session we started looking at training, now a lot of people still mistaking believe this is just for “circus tricks” when in reality it is so much more. In the zoo veterinary world medical training is used as an alternative to sedation, anaesthesia and immobilisation – it allows safe and stress free veterinary care of potentially deadly animals. For example have a look at this photo…

 Medical training of dolphins for temperature measurement

Here is a dolphin, the body is mainly muscle so it’s very strong, yet it is laying there on its back in the water to allow for the temperature to be checked. I believe this is pretty amazing, medical training is something that can be used anywhere but seems to mainly be used in zoos. Just imagine if all the dogs and cats that vets see could do this, just stand whilst the temperature was checked, many pets visiting the vets are so stressed and petrified just being in the building before anything is even started!

So going on from this we did a practical session of training each other, it was really interesting as without language it is very difficult to communicate exactly what you want an animal (or someone else) to do!