Caring for Stranded Marine Animals
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Pepper’s CT Scan

DSC_0015Our grey seal pup, Pepper, was admitted on February 25th, by our friends at the International FundDSC_0007 3 for Animal Welfare from Sandy Neck Beach, Barnstable, MA. He was collected for rehabilitation due to ear discharge. Dr. Williams confirmed that an ear infection (otitis media) was present in his left ear by radiographs when Pepper was admitted.  In general, ear infection cases are challenging to treat in seals.

Our initial treatment plan involved oral antibiotics, ear drops and saline ear flushes given by our animal care staff twice a day.  This treatment was continued until our team was able to bring Pepper to the Computerized Scanning and Imaging Facility (CSI) at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) for him to undergo a CT scan.  A CT scan offers the best way to image Pepper’s middle ear in order to determine the extent and severity of the infection. It also allows our veterinarian to see whether or not the infection has spread to the bone.

On Tuesday, March 17th, 2015, Pepper underwent his CT scan.  For a seal, a CT scan is a rather risky procedure. DSC_0056 To ensure that the animal does not move during the scan, they need to be put under anesthesia.  Seal anesthesia can be challenging due to the unique adaptations they have for underwater life making it difficult to wake them up post anesthesia. In the marine mammalogy world, this is known as the dive reflex.

On the day of the scan, Dr. Williams first performed a physical health exam.  Pepper cleared with flying colors.  Pepper then received a sedative before going under anesthesia.  Once the sedative started to DSC_0064kick in, Dr. Williams then administered the anesthesia drugs. When Pepper was asleep, Dr. Williams and our animal care staff put a trachea tube in for intubation, where staff maintained his breathing through the whole procedure.  A total of three different imagines were taken. When the scans were complete, Dr. Williams administered a reversal drug to wake Pepper up.  Once Pepper started to regain consciousness, the trachea tube was removed and started on oxygen.  During the procedure, Pepper was hooked up to an EKG machine to monitor his heart rate. When Pepper began to breathe on his own, everyone let out one BIG sigh of relief!  Before heading back to NMLC, our animal care staff conducted a post physical exam.  Pepper was then kennel and brought back to the center to spend the remainder of his day resting in his pod.

The CT scan showed that Pepper does not need surgery and that our medical management plan is working.  PeDSC_0016pper is still not out of the woods just yet.  With minor changes to his treatment plan, Pepper will continue to have weekly ear swabs for Dr. Williams to stain and read under the scope to see if the bacteria is increasing or decreasing.  Additional radiographs will still need to be taken.  As of right now, the biggest challenge has been getting Pepper to learn how to eat fish on his own.  Pepper came to us as a maternally dependent pup who was not fully weaned from mom.

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