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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/

Friday, June 10, 2011

Meet "Wildoctric!" ~ An Unusual Name for an Unusual Patient! Elephant Seal Weaner Gets Groundbreaking Surgery, Smooth Recovery & Happy Release!

Blog article & captions written by Dina N. Warren
Photos by Jackie Dolan & Stan Jensen


Wildoctric surveys her new ocean home at Drakes Bay. This female, elephant seal weaner successfully survived an amazing story of rescue, groundbreaking surgery, careful rehabilitation, and a heartwarming release! Pictured here on Chimney Rock Beach, in the Point Reyes National Seashore, she's ready to go home!

It's a picture perfect day for Wildoctric's beginning steps toward freedom. Here, she cautiously touches sand for the first time, after many weeks of treatment and recovery.

Swimming safely in her pool enclosure, just hours after her final surgery, Wildoctric experiences a smooth recovery. What a face -- is that gratitude in her eyes?!

Marjorie Boor, keeps a close eye on the first-ever sliding hiatal hernia surgery to be performed on an elephant seal! High-definition cameras and monitors guide and record this ground-breaking procedure.

Pictured in the Center's hospital, a laparoscopic gastropexy is performed on this young Northern Elephant Seal ~ a common procedure to humans, as well!

Meet "Wildoctric" --an unusual name for an unusual patient, and one who needed help for a serious, hidden medical condition. This young female Northern Elephant Seal was rescued in the middle of the Center's rescue range, on a beach in Monterey State Park, April 30, 2011. Wildoctric was extremely lethargic and suffering from severe malnutrition, weighing only 40 kilograms -- pups this age should weigh at least 75 kilograms! The Center's rescue team responded quickly to a concerned citizen's call, rescued and delivered her to the waiting veterinary team, back in Sausalito.

During her admit-exam, the veterinary staff noticed that the young elephant seal already had a green flipper tag - indicating that she had been counted only a few weeks prior at the Ano Nuevo State Reserve. Within days, the team realized that this wayward pelagic pup was suffering from something internal. "She was a poor eater, managing only a couple of whole fish, so we prescribed supplemental tube-feeding, but still, she couldn't keep her food down, vomiting frequently," explained Dr. Rebecca Greene, one of the Center's associate veterinarians. "Despite our best efforts, she was not able to consistently gain and keep weight-on," added Dr. Greene. Therefore, after nearly three weeks of erratic gains and losses, Dr. Bill Van Bonn, the Center's chief veterinary scientist, decided it was time for some more in-depth investigations.

"To my knowledge, this was the first time that anyone attempted these procedures on an elephant seal," explained Dr. Van Bonn. The team started by investigated the internal organs using a series of basic radio graphs, or x-rays, which revealed some abdominal abnormalities. A few days later, the team conducted more detailed contrast-radio graphs and a subsequent endoscopy revealed the underlying problem -- a sliding hiatal hernia! (These procedures are commonly performed on humans, where a tiny camera, mounted at the end of a long thin tube, is inserted through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach.)

"There was something inside the abdominal region that was herniating, or moving, into the chest cavity -- and that "something" was her stomach!" explained Dr. Van Bonn. "So, we decided to perform a laparoscopic gastropexy to keep the stomach from moving into the thoracic cavity," added Dr. Van Bonn. On June 9, 2011, Wildoctric began a incredibly smooth recovery. Just hours after surgery, she accepted small amounts of prescribed whole fish, and was ready for more. Each day, her ration was carefully monitored and gradually adjusted-up. Originally, Wildoctric was admitted to the hospital at only 41 kilograms. But in just 20 days after surgery, she had gained nearly 20 kilograms and was released with other rehabilitated patients, at a healthy 61.5 kilograms! "Watching this marine mammal swimming and diving, and successfully retrieving whole fish on her own was a joy," said Deb Wickham, the Center's veterinary science operations manager. "Her treatment, rehabilitation and release outcome is what we all work for, each and every day!" added Wickham.

A miracle of science, and much tender loving care... Good luck Wildoctric, we're all so proud of you!

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