This morning, the NMLC team journeyed to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Computerized Scanning and Imaging Facility for a CT scan (CAT scan, a medical imaging procedure that uses computer-processed x-rays to produce slices of specific areas of the body) for Townsend, our harbor seal. A rarity at best for most seals, this was Townsend’s third journey to WHOI over the past six months. Townsend, who has been with NMLC for over six months, was diagnosed with middle ear disease upon arrival.
We are grateful to Dr. Darlene Ketten and her wonderful staff at WHOI-CSI for providing CT scans for Townsend.
Undergoing two surgeries on his ears, the first involved drilling a small hole in the Bulla (bone in the middle ear) and cleaning out infected material. He was taken back to WHOI-CSI for another CT scan to see his progress from the first surgery, it was discovered that Townsend had suffered some complications from the surgery, specifically a small circular piece of the Bulla had fractured around the site of the surgical access point leaving a sequestrum (piece of floating bone) and some residual infection.
After discussions with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Marine Life Center was given permission to move forward with a second surgery, one which had never been performed on a seal. The procedure called a Total Ear Canal Ablasion (TECA) and Latera Bulla Osteotomy was performed on April 10, 2013. During the surgery it was discovered that Townsend had a polyp in his left ear canal, which may have contributed to the disease and complications with healings with his first surgery.
We are grateful to Dr. Ed Kochen and his wonderful staff at Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists for helping us with Townsend’s surgeries.
Towsend’s final CT scan today showed immense progress. He no longer has any residual air pockets, the sequestrum has been fully removed and tests done on his neurological receptors (similar to hearing tests done on infants) show he is able to hear well enough to be released. He did a great job today, as always, remaining calm and under control during transportation and over an hour of exams. He’s more than ready to return to the ocean!
We are grateful to Dr. T. Aran Mooney of WHOI for helping us with Townsend’s hearing test!
Dr. Sea Rogers Williams, NMLC Science Director & Associate Veterinarian, has officially cleared Townsend for release and the paperwork will be sent to NOAA this week.
Due to the extensive rehabilitation performed, and two rare yet successful surgeries, we hope to get a Wildlife Computers Spot Tag which records time depth measurements, as well as location via satellite signals, before releasing him, to keep tabs on how he is acclimating to the wild. This would also allow for extensive research on middle ear disease, a disease with very little known about it.
We are scheduled to receive two other seals who also suffer from middle ear disease in the coming weeks. This is an incredible opportunity to gain further research on a disease, that so far, has been rather unsuccessful in rehabilitating. Townsend is a rare and special case who has overcome the odds and is nearing the end of a successful rehabilitation.
We are hoping for funding for the tag itself, which normally costs around $3000. Every time the tag connects to the satellite, there is an additional fee, adding up to a few hundred dollars. However, the research and data that can be gained from tracking Townsend’s progress is vast. NMLC, with the help of Dr. Sea Rogers Williams V.M.D., Science Director & Associate Veterinarian, hopes to become a staple in such research, gathering the data needed to successfully rehabilitate seals with this disease, instead of resorting to euthanasia, an option usually resorted to in most cases.
Townsend’s calm yet playful demeonir and puppy dog eyes make him one of the most lovable seals here at NMLC. His release will be an exciting one as he has certainly beat the odds time and time again to his successful recovery.
We appreciate your help and support!
Donate to Townsend’s tag here: http://www.youcaring.com/nationalmarinelifecenter
Stay tuned for updates on a date and location for Townsend’s release.