Just as people go to the doctor or dentist for regular check-ups, the animals in our care also get regular check-ups. Get the inside scoop as Senior Veterinarian Dr. Caitlin Hadfield shares details about fur seal Leu’s recent exam.
Here at the Aquarium, we personalize care to the species and individuals within that species. In Leu’s case, part of his exam included taking x-rays. We are working with Dr. Brittany Davis at Evergreen Equine Veterinary Practice, which has provided the Aquarium with on-site radiography services pro bono for many of our animals.
Because our animal care staff have great relationships with Leu, we can ask him to participate in his health care. In these pictures, Animal Care Specialist Sara Perry is near Leu's head; she’s been working with him on this specific x-ray behavior.
The white-blue ball is called a target—it helps tell Leu where we would like him to put his nose. Sara's whistle is called a bridge—it helps her let Leu know exactly when he gets things just right and is really helpful when training behaviors like this. The box on the ground is called a tunnel, and inside the tunnel is the x-ray plate.
The plate is fragile and expensive, so it's being protected inside the tunnel, allowing Leu's whole weight of roughly 220 pounds (110kg) to be over it. The gray and blue box that Dr. Davis is holding generates the x-rays. It's small and light enough that it is mobile, unlike most human units, and can be used for horses in barns and fur seals at the Aquarium.
After an x-ray has been taken, the plate “talks” to the laptop in the corner where we can view the images. All the equipment is wireless and cordless, so we don't have to worry about cables around wild animals. And, while Leu would get all his food even if he decided he didn't want to do x-rays today, he gets lots of food through this process to help him understand that he is doing great!
About northern fur seals:
Northern fur seals are found in the north Pacific Ocean from Japan to California, with most of the breeding populations concentrated around the Pribilof Islands, off the coast of mainland Alaska. The Pribilof Islands population is depleted, with the main threats being entanglement in marine debris and reduced prey populations (fish, shellfish and squid). We can help fur seals by reducing consumption of single-use plastics, properly disposing of plastics when we do use them, and purchasing sustainable seafood.
Like all seals, northern fur seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. If you come across a seal that is dead or may be sick or injured, do not approach the animal, and contact the NOAA Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 1-866-767-6114.
Thanks to Dr. Hadfield for this insider’s glimpse into fur seal care at the Seattle Aquarium! Interested in learning more? Check out our fur seal fact sheet!