The start of a marine mammal education on dolphins and manatees

Manatee having lunch

Well today has been long, lectures started at 8am this morning and we stopped to go out to dinner at 7pm (though the debates kept going). Now tommorow morning is anaesthesia and immobilisation, and debate is still going on here so I can only afford to take 15 minutes away to give a quick update here!

So this morning started with the zoo director talking about concepts of animal behaviour, this was pretty interesting and I learnt absolutely tons. What is cool here is that the director is not afraid to challenge the “norm”, and so this zoo is one of the few where animals are allowed to stay out at night, or where options are given so the animal can choose their preference of nesting box.

Now a nesting box may not seem important, and traditionally this has been placed by the keepers. However animals recognise that a keeper will come each day into that part of the enclosure whether to clean or feed them and so at one zoo the animal decided to raise their cubs 1 foot in front of the public fence. This was because the animal felt safe, no one had ever come over or through the fence into the enclosure yet the keeper kept coming in the keepers door. This changed the thinking here so that nesting boxes are no longer put near entrances to the enclosure.

With the dolphins here they are kept with the sea lions in a new purpose built outdoor laguona. This has over 6,000 million litres of salt water, and was constructed with new thoughts in dolphin behaviour so as to reduce stress and improve welfare. This project cost around 30 million euros with nearly 20 million euros spent on the backend life support systems to maintain the salt water! This was then followed by a tour of the rest of the zoo including the manatee’s with behaviour and enrichment implementation explained which was really cool!

Manatee having lunch

We then headed back into the classroom after lunch where we went over anatomy and physiology of marine mammals. Now this is extremely interesting as there are extreme differences between species, and these differences affect the medical treatment of these animals. For example the trachea in true seals is long with short bronchi with loads of loads supported only by muscle which makes them susceptable for lung collapse whilst the eared seal has cartiledge here so does not suffer from this problem.

We then looked at the physiology of the dive reflex which is really cool and will get its own diary entry when I am back next week!

Next up was a lecture on tuberculosis (TB) which as many know affects cattle, it also can affect zoo animals including elephants. Its a big problem currently in India with temple elephants, and we looked at treatment here and its occurance also in marine mammals. Coming onto that we looked at Avian TB which isn’t a real tuberculosis but a mycobacteriosis that is still a problem in zoos. Recently in Europe there has been problems with penguins with it which was also interesting as it showed that it could not be detected on xray, but by CT with loads of images of this to look at.

This was followed up by a talk on what it is to be a zoo vet, which was interesting before we then started into a debate session on some of the issues mentioned during the day. As potential vets we have to understand the ethical and moral aspects of what marine mammal and zoo medicine really is about and several issues were actually discussed here. We then moved onto the design of research projects and how to write a scientific paper which is really important in zoo and wildlife medicine but something not really taught well in vet schools.

Finishing up we then moved to town for dinner where the debate resumed. What a day!

One thought on “The start of a marine mammal education on dolphins and manatees

  1. Hey there, first of all i think this is a very nice website, I think this is a great idea to help you follow your career in becoming a vet. Looks like it is turning out successful too as you are talking about being there and doing things so that’s great. We are a small animal boarding business in Crowthorne and share your love of animals. I wish you all the best and enjoy reading your articles. Thanks. Little Bunnies Crowthorne

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