Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sea Turtle Hospital's newest patient is not a turtle at all!

An immature Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) was found by several of the South Carolina Aquarium's animal care staff on their way back from lunch at Santi's, a local Mexican restaurant. The pelican didn't fly away when approached which alerted staff that the bird was probably ill. The staff, versed in handling injured wild birds, transported the pelican to the Aquarium's Sea Turtle Hospital to be examined by Dr. Boylan, the Aquarium's staff veterinarian.

Upon arrival at the hospital, the pelican, affectionately named Santi, received fluids, antibiotics and was tempted with fish. Santi appeared quite hungry but after taking the fish into its pouch, it was clear that there was a problem. It seems that a blockage in the guttural pouch won't allow food to pass. An open wound in the neck (visible in the photograph) is suspected to be the root cause of the problem.

Birds need to eat frequently and Santi looked thin, so it was vitally important to get some nutrition in the animal. After retrieving the uneaten fish from the back of the mouth, Santi was tube fed a healthy gruel. On subsequent days, hospital staff has found that fish cut up into very small pieces will pass down the esophagus. Although it takes about 30 minutes for just a handful of fish to be swallowed, this is much less stressful on the bird than tube feeding several times a day. The video shows Santi being fed and trying to get the fish down by consistently opening his/her beak and moving the head up and down.

As soon as Dr. Boylan feels the animal is stable, radiographs and an endoscopic examination will be performed and surgery will take place if necessary.

You can visit Santi and all of the other sea turtle patients by visiting the hospital. Behind-the-scenes tours give you a rare chance to get close to these amazing animals. Tour information is just below or call 843-577-FISH for more information.

Hope to see you soon!