Mystic Aquarium looks to surgery to treat fur seal with seizures
Mystic — A female northern fur seal that has fought neurological problems since being found near death on a California beach four years ago is about to undergo surgery that could end the seizures she has been having.
Ziggy Star is among five northern fur seals at Mystic Aquarium and one of just 11 in captivity in the United States. The seals were once hunted in large numbers for their luxurious pelts but are now a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Ziggy, estimated to be a teenager, suffers from cerebral demyelination that affects her coordination and ability to process images correctly. This forces her to rely more on her hearing to interact with the trainers who have been caring for her almost around the clock since her condition worsened a few weeks ago.
After being found emaciated, she was rescued in April 2013 and taken to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., where testing showed that the condition she suffers from would make it difficult for her to survive in the wild.
The aquarium stepped in to take Ziggy. An online campaign by the aquarium resulted in 276 donations to cover the cost of transporting her to Mystic in March 2014. Since then she has lived with the other fur seals in an outdoor exhibit, receiving specialized care and has been relatively healthy until the past several weeks.
That's when a cluster of seizures forced the aquarium to bring Ziggy to the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., for advanced brain imaging and evaluation by a veterinary neurologist.
“We really were not sure if she was going to come back to us,” said Erin Gibbons, the aquarium’s assistant supervisor of cetaceans and pinnipeds. “I have never seen a fighting spirit like I have seen in this animal. She doesn’t give up.”
Ziggy, who weighs 100 pounds, is now receiving a regimen of oral medications to prevent seizures, intravenous fluids, Vitamin E injections, laser therapy and wound care for her right rear flippers, daily massages and salt water baths. She has slowly been reintroduced to swimming, beginning in a shallow pool, and is transitioning to deeper water with divers alongside.
The aquarium has been researching Ziggy’s medical records and treatment options and has now decided to proceed with surgery to control the seizures, Gibbons said. The surgery could take place within a few weeks as the aquarium has to coordinate with the various veterinary professionals who will be involved.
Gibbons said that although the surgery has been performed on dogs, this would be the first time she knows of that it has been done on a seal.
Gibbons, who oversees Ziggy’s care with trainers Chrissy Metzger and Jessie Smashey, said the seal enjoys the touch of her trainers, rubbing on their arms for grooming.
“We know she does that because she trusts us. It’s not something a seal would normally do,” she said. “She’s extra comfortable with us because she relies on us far more than the other animals.”
It is costing the aquarium more than $4,000 a month to care for Ziggy. Anyone who would like to donate toward her care can do so at MysticAquarium.org/donate.
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