San Antonio, Texas, USA

SeaWorld Performs First Ever Spinal Tap on a Bottlenose Dolphin

25 Jan 2019

A rescued bottlenose dolphin is doing well at SeaWorld San Antonio after the first ever cerebrospinal fluid tap on a live bottlenose dolphin was recently performed, giving her a chance at living with other dolphins.

Rimmy is a sub adult female bottlenose dolphin who stranded on Sea Rim State Park, Texas in September 2017 when she was approximately 2-3 years old. She was rescued by the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network (TMMSN) and treated for 14 months at their Galveston centre for multiple ailments, including pneumonia and nasal parasites, in collaboration with SeaWorld San Antonio’s animal care team.

NOAA Fisheries determined that Rimmy could not be released back to the wild due to her need for continued, long-term medical treatment. In order to find her a permanent home, a bacterial infection of the central nervous system or brain needed to be ruled out. This kind of procedure had never been attempted before on a live dolphin and, without it, Rimmy’s options for finding a new home were limited.

In collaboration with the TMMSN, SeaWorld brought in outside specialists for this first ever procedure, including Dr. Nicholas Jeffery a professor of neurology in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, who regularly performs spinal taps in animals and Dr. James Bailey of Innovative Veterinary Medicine, an expert in cetacean anaesthesia who used a ventilator designed specifically for dolphins. SeaWorld veterinarians Dr. Jennifer Camilleri, Dr. Steve Osborn, and Dr. Hendrik Nollens, and SeaWorld’s animal husbandry team rounded out the team of experts.

During the procedure, samples were also collected to examine how the anaesthetic drug was metabolised, information that can make future anaesthetic procedures possible at other facilities caring for dolphins and whales.

Rimmy’s ground breaking procedure was a success. She recovered completely from the anaesthesia, and the much-needed diagnostic samples were collected. It was found that she did not have the infection of her central nervous system that had been feared and she continues to be cared for at SeaWorld San Antonio while NOAA Fisheries finds Rimmy a permanent home.

“The expertise and creativity to devise new ways to treat marine animals is a testament to the extraordinary lengths our teams will go to preserve the life of every animal,” said Dr. Steve Osborn, a senior veterinarian at SeaWorld San Antonio. “Working in collaboration with experts in the fields of neurology and anaesthesia, we were able to successfully extract cerebrospinal fluid from a live cetacean for the very first time.”

SeaWorld San Antonio’s animal hospital, performing radiography, endoscopy, ultrasound, as well as small and large animal anaesthesia, has given many rescued animals a second chance at life. SeaWorld’s rescue team is on call 24/7, benefiting more than 33,000 animals over the past 50 years.