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The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit veterinary hospital, research, and educational center dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of ill and injured marine mammals and the study of their health. Since 1975, the Center has rescued and treated more than 16,500 marine mammals and has accumulated a body of knowledge about marine mammal and ocean health. Through public education about marine mammals, the Center hopes to foster ocean stewardship and conservation. For more information, visit http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Left,Veterinary Intern Nicola Pussini prepares to x-ray Sauvignon. Right, Sauvignon's x-ray. Photos: Gina Sanfilippo, Tuesday Day Crew volunteer.
Unfortunately, marine mammals that are released by the Center sometimes need to be rescued again at a later date. These animals are termed "restrands" by staff and volunteers. They will have a flipper tag identifying them as previous patients, and will already have a patient chart with information about their previous conditions and treatments.
One such animal is "Sauvignon", a California sea lion that initially stranded in Pacifica and was released on November 26 at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. At that time, she had been eating fish and appeared healthy. However, four days after being released, on November 30, Sauvignon reappeared, this time in the parking lot of a Comcast building in San Leandro, sparking some media attention and a call to the Center, which sent out a team to rescue her.
She is now back at the Center's hospital, being cared for by veterinary staff and volunteers. Sauvignon's restranding is not good news for her prognosis. While she has not yet had a definitive diagnosis, there are several warning signs that suggest that she may be suffering from the chronic effects of domoic acid toxicity, a condition which is incurable. First, her appearance in an urban parking lot, which is an unusual habitat for a California sea lion, suggests that her navigation faculties are not functioning properly. This can be caused by damage to the hippocampus, an area of the brain which manages navigation, among other things. Chronic effects of domoic acid cause this part of the brain to atrophy. Police officers on the scene reported that she may have had seizures, another common symptom of domoic acid toxicity.
An x-ray was done on Sauvignon because she will have an MRI tomorrow. An MRI machine is powered by magnets, and sea lions can sometimes have bullets lodged inside their bodies from run-ins with people, so the x-ray is used prior to an MRI to identify any bullets that might attract to the magnet and cause damage inside her body. In Sauvignon's case, the x-ray did not reveal any bullets inside of her. The MRI will allow veterinarians to look at her brain and see if her hippocampus is indeed atrophied. Depending on the results, she may also have an EEG to measure brain activity and determine if she may be having subclinical seizures, another symptom of chronic domoic acid poisoning. Only after they have seen the MRI and/or EEG results will veterinarians be able to determine if their hypothesis is correct and definitively diagnose Sauvignon.
UPDATE 12/04: Unfortunately, Sauvignon's MRI showed damage to the hippocampus, confirming a chronic domoic acid toxicity diagnosis. She had another seizure after her MRI, and the decision was made to humanely euthanize her to spare her from any additional suffering and the certain death she would have met in the wild.
Posted by The Marine Mammal Center at 11:27 AM