For “Onion Flake,” everything that could go wrong, did.
Onion Flake is a juvenile male harbor seal that stranded on Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts on September 17, 2015. He was rescued by the International Fund For Animal Welfare and admitted to the National Marine Life Center’s marine animal hospital the same day. Onion was admitted with an extremely high fever; wounds to his body, muzzle, and flippers; and labored breathing. He had a severe case of pneumonia.
Two weeks later, while still recovering from his pneumonia, Onion Flake
developed an ocular (eye) discharge and was diagnosed with a corneal ulcer. This ulcer was caused by an infection called Phocine (seal) herpesvirus. Fluid therapy, eye ointments, and steroid medication to address his herpes virus symptoms were added to Onion’s treatments. Sadly, the infection caused Onion to lose sight in his right eye. And yet, with the help of NMLC’s dedicated staff and volunteers, he continued to fight to survive.
In late October, we noticed a discharge from Onion’s left ear. This meant he had an ear infection, which could be mild or serious. Using a special series of radiographs called canalogrophy, NMLC Veterinarian Dr. “Sea” Rogers Williams determined that Onion’s left ear drum was ruptured and the infection was deep inside his middle ear. This was the worst case scenario. However, because of the severity of his pneumonia and herpesvirus infection, Onion couldn’t be sedated for additional diagnostics or treatment until his condition stabilized. In the meantime, we added saline ear flushes and topical antibiotics to Onion’s daily course of treatment.
To add insult to injury, in November we noted a small bump on Onion’s face which later developed into a sealpox lesion. This is another common seal virus that tends to emerge in times of stress. Onion was placed under quarantine from our other seal patients until his pox was resolved.
At this point in time, Onion had experienced just about every common seal disease, virus, and infection we see on a regular basis at NMLC. He had every right to just give up. And yet, he kept fighting.
Due to Onion Flake’s large number of active medical problems and the resulting quarantine, we were not able to fully investigate the extent of his ear disease until January, 2016 – four months into his rehabilitation. At this point, thanks to Scott Cramer and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Computerized Scanning and Imaging Facility, Onion had a CT scan of his head. This diagnostic test confirmed that he had a ruptured tympanic membrane (ear drum), and further showed that the bones of his skull were not yet affected. As such, Onion would be a good candidate for ear surgery. Based on past experience with middle ear disease in seals at NMLC, neither topical treatments nor injected antibiotics are effective in correcting these severe and debilitating infections.
Dr. Williams made arrangements with Dr. Ed Kochin of Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists to perform surgery on Onion Flake. A Board-Certified Veterinary Surgeon, Dr. Kochin had previously performed two successful ear surgeries on “Townsend” – another seal with severe middle ear disease. In Onion’s case, all possible treatment options had been exhausted and only surgery – a left ear total ear canal ablation with lateral bulla osteotomy – would be able to cure his chronic otitis media (ear infection). Onion’s surgery, on April 20, 2016, was another success! On behalf of Onion, we are deeply grateful to Dr. Kochin, VMD, DACVS, Dr. Louisa Rahilly, DVM, DACVECC, and Jen Boston, CVT, for donating their time, services, and supplies.
Now, after eight months in rehabilitation and against all odds, Onion is finally on the mend. Release is in sight!
Currently recovering in NMLC’s dry holding room, Onion’s had his first set of stitches removed. Soon, we will
remove the remainder of his stitches and move him to one of our large rehabilitation pools. From that point it should only be a couple weeks until he is ready for release!
Onion is only the second seal in the world to have survived this type of surgery and healed of middle ear disease! Because of this, and because of his extensive rehabilitation, it is very important to place a satellite tag on Onion Flake so we can track him after he is released and monitor his progress in the wild.
With your help, we will purchase a Wildlife Computers “Splash” Tag. This specially-manufactured satellite tag is designed to be used on marine animals. In addition to location data, the tag records time, temperature, and depth measurements. For seals like Onion, diving is critical to his survival and this tag is critical to monitoring his progress in the wild.
The tag also provides an incredible opportunity to gain further data and insight into a disease that, so far, is poorly understood and extremely difficult to treat. What causes middle ear disease? How many seals suffer from it? Can that which causes middle ear disease in seals also affect other animals or even people?
The estimated cost for Onion’s Splash tag, rush manufacturing, tagging supplies and application, satellite transmission data charges, and subsequent analysis is $5,000. The data gained is priceless. Information from the tag will help us close Onion’s case, better understand the serious diseases from which he suffered, and improve care for future seal patients at National Marine Life Center and elsewhere.
Onion Flake is a rare and special case who has overcome all odds and is nearing the end of a successful rehabilitation. He needs your help! Please help Onion complete his journey to release. Help us learn as much as possible from Onion and his incredible rehabilitation at the National Marine Life Center. Support the purchase of Onion’s tag today!
On behalf of Onion Flake and all future seals with middle ear disease, Thank You.