Seattle Aquarium vet assists in sea otter surgery

Emergency surgery for Corky, a sea otter rescued by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
Photo provided by Vancouver Aquarium.

Dr. Lesanna Lahner, our staff veterinarian, recently traveled to Vancouver, B.C. to assist in emergency surgery on Corky, a sea otter at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Corky was rescued near Tofino, a district on the west side of Vancouver Island, in August. He was diagnosed with a fractured rib, possibly due to being struck by a boat, which led to air being trapped under his skin and a condition called subcutaneous emphysema. Unable to dive or forage for food, he was transferred to the rescue center for treatment.

The emphysema subsided but follow-up tests revealed that one of Corky’s kidneys had ruptured, probably during the initial trauma. The rupture caused Corky to begin passing large amounts of blood and, by October 5, it became clear that he would need surgery. With the rescue center’s head veterinarian, Dr. Marin Haulena, out of the country at a conference, reinforcements were needed. Dr. Lahner and Dr. Alex Aguila, a veterinary surgeon from the Animal Surgical Clinic of Seattle, headed north to assist Dr. Karisa Tang, veterinary fellow at the Vancouver Aquarium.

For Dr. Lahner, the decision to make the trip to help was an easy one. “We’re part of a small community of specialized veterinarians who collaborate to ensure that these wonderful animals get the best care possible,” she says. The team performed a series of life-saving procedures: they removed one of Corky’s kidneys in a procedure called a nephrectomy; opened his urinary bladder (in a procedure called a cystotomy) to remove blood clots; and gave him a blood transfusion. While conducting these procedures, the group was making history as well: Corky was the first sea otter ever to have a kidney removed, and first known to receive a blood transfusion.

Corky will continue to receive critical care at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Read our sea otter fact sheet to learn more about these amazing animals!

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