Virginia Mason, Seattle Aquarium partner to provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy to help rescued sea turtle recover

Pictured above is Tucker, the 70-pound, ~20 year old olive ridley sea turtle, in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber at the Virginia Mason Center for Hyperbaric Medicine. He was closely monitored by a team of experts that included Seattle Aquarium veterinarian Lesanna Lahner and Jim Holm, MD, medical director of hyperbaric medicine.

A rescued sea turtle undergoing rehabilitation at the Seattle Aquarium became the first nonhuman treated in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber at Virginia Mason Hospital earlier this week when medical experts and marine wildlife veterinarians collaborated in an effort to compress internal gas bubbles that prevent the reptile from diving or remaining under water.

The 70-pound olive ridley sea turtle, named Tucker by aquarium staff who have cared for him since December, is undergoing tests at the Seattle Aquarium this week to determine if hyperbaric therapy—which involved breathing 100 percent oxygen for about 2 ½ hours—corrected his buoyancy problem. The turtle cannot be safely released back into the Pacific Ocean until he is able to dive normally, which is important for him to find food and avoid predators and other threats, such as boats.

While at the Virginia Mason Center for Hyperbaric Medicine on Monday, the 20-year-old turtle was closely monitored by a team of experts that included Seattle Aquarium veterinarian Lesanna Lahner, DVM, MPH, and James Holm, MD, medical director at the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine. Drs. Lahner and Holm, and hyperbaric nurse Alyson Barger, RN, were inside the hyperbaric chamber with Tucker from the start of therapy through completion. The turtle was watched closely with a heart monitor and assisted with breathing via a tube in his airway. He was provided sedation and tolerated the treatment well.

“We are honored that the Seattle Aquarium team contacted us about using hyperbaric oxygen as a possible treatment to help Tucker on his road to recovery,” said Dr. Holm, who is board-certified in undersea and hyperbaric medicine and has been a scuba diver for 40 years. “We have treated many scuba divers over the years for a gas bubble disease known as decompression sickness, which is also called ‘the bends.’ This is the first time we have been asked to assist in the care of a sea turtle, which are excellent divers themselves.”

Hyperbaric oxygen has been tested as a treatment for decompression-like sickness in sea turtles, according to a study from Spain published in the October 2014 edition of Diseases of Aquatic Organisms. But this is believed to be the first time the therapy has been used for a sea turtle in the United States with Tucker’s specific ailment.

View more photos here: Seattle Times—Lucky sea turtle gets special treatment at Virginia Mason

During treatment sessions, the hyperbaric chamber is pressurized with air to about three times the normal atmospheric pressure. Patients breathe 100 percent oxygen, enabling their blood to carry up to 15 times the normal amount of oxygen to organs and tissues. This can help “crush” bubbles, as well as provide high tissue oxygen levels to restore normal tissue function.

In December, Tucker was found stranded and near death on the Oregon Coast far from his usual warm-water Pacific Ocean habitat off Southern California and Mexico. He has been undergoing treatment and rehabilitation at the Seattle Aquarium to correct the effects of severe pneumonia. Hand-fed and nurtured by the Aquarium staff, the turtle has regained weight and a normal body temperature. However, a CT (computerized tomography) scan showed gas bubbles may be trapped in his body, making him too buoyant to dive successfully and find food on his own in the wild.

“I am thrilled that Virginia Mason and its amazing team were willing to bring Tucker the sea turtle into the hyperbaric chamber,” said Lahner. “Not only will the treatment potentially help him to be released back into the wild, but it has provided us valuable information about the diving physiology of sea turtles as we were able to closely monitor his vitals and blood gases throughout the entire procedure.

“This has been an exciting collaboration of veterinary medicine and human health care providers,” she added.

Virginia Mason is the region’s leading provider of hyperbaric oxygen treatment for conditions such as carbon monoxide poisoning and decompression sickness, a potentially life-threatening hazard of scuba diving. Its Level 1, 24-hour hyperbaric medicine program is one of the few in the United States accredited “with distinction” by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society.

In addition to decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning, the Virginia Mason Center for Hyperbaric Medicine treats medical conditions such as diabetic wounds and tissue damaged by radiation during cancer therapy. “Treatment of radiation tissue injury is our most common indication,” Dr. Holm said. “The condition requires multiple treatments and has excellent outcomes.”

The center provides about 8,000 hours of patient treatment annually. The tube-shaped hyperbaric oxygen chamber, measuring 10 feet wide and 46 feet long, can accommodate as many as 16 human patients at one time.

The Center for Hyperbaric Medicine was established more than 40 years ago and has been in its current location at Virginia Mason Hospital since 2005. The program’s medical staff members have published nearly 100 articles about hyperbaric medicine in a variety of medical journals.

More related news: KING5 News—Sea turtle get hyperbaric treatment at Virginia Mason

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Puffer profiles

While there may be about 120 species of puffer fish, they all share the ability for which they’re named: when threatened, they can rapidly fill their bellies with air or water, expanding like balloons to twice or even three times their normal size! Another thing this species has in common? They all live in tropical waters—there are no known species of cold-water puffers. On an ominous note, puffer fish are the second most poisonous vertebrate, right behind poison dart frogs, to humans—thanks to concentrations of a toxic chemical, tetrodotoxin, in their skin and liver. Here’s one thing all puffers don’t have in common: they don’t all live in saltwater. There are 29 known species of freshwater puffers! Keep reading to learn about the puffers on exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium.

white spotted puffer

White-spotted puffer

Arothron hispidus

Nocturnal and solitary, this large puffer can be aggressive about protecting its territory from intruders. Its diet includes a wide variety of invertebrates like crabs, mollusks, corals, coralline algae, tunicates, sea stars and urchins.

dog face puffer

Dog-faced puffer

Arothron nigropunctatus

Growing to one foot in length, this diurnal (active during the day) fish shares many features with other puffers. It has no lower rib bones or pectoral fins, allowing it to rapidly swallow large amounts of water or air to fend off predators. Although not visible, sharp spines reside under the fish’s skin and can pierce predators when the body is inflated.

 whitespotted toby

Whitespotted toby

Canthigaster jactator

This tiny puffer grows to five inches and is only found around the Hawaiian Islands. As with all puffers, this fish’s teeth grow throughout their lives and need to be continuously worn down through chewing on live rock or shells. In fact, members of the puffer family, Tetraodontidae, are named for their four large teeth, fused into a beak.

spot-fin porcupinefish

Spot-fin porcupinefish

Diodon hystrix

Also known as the spotted porcupinefish or just the porcupinefish, this puffer is found in tropical waters worldwide. Its body is covered in numerous long, sharp spines. When the fish’s body is not inflated, these spines can be seen lying flat and pointing toward the tail. However when the puffer puffs up, the spines point outwards, providing a formidable defense.

Eager to know more about puffers? Check out our puffer fish fact sheet, then come visit these super-cool fish in our Pacific Coral Reef and Tropical Pacific exhibits!

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Seattle Aquarium Hawaii reef research report

2016 marks the eighth consecutive year that Seattle Aquarium staff members have conducted reef fish surveys at eight sites along the northwestern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Below, Curator of Conservation Research Dr. Shawn Larson shares her journal from this year’s surveys.

Day 1: January 30, 2016

Arrived at the home of our hosts, Dom and Marie Addario, in Puako late last night after a flight delay and unplanned stop in Portland. Regardless we were ready to go by 7am Hawaii time. The weather was beautiful and the water was relatively calm with 2–4’ waves. We looked at Puako sites 1, 2 and 5 and the ocean was a little rough so we drove 30 minutes north to sites 6 and 7 in Mahukona. The water conditions were good and, as long as we timed our dives, we had no problem accessing the sites and getting into and out of the water with all of our gear—which consisted of full-face masks, communication units, reels and cameras.

Day 2: January 31, 2016

Today the ocean conditions are even better. Little swell and no wind waves. We feel very lucky because our partners in Hawaii, the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), have been unable to dive and do their underwater surveys for over a month. In fact they suggested we postpone our trip until the end of February. We decided we couldn’t do that because the house that we were staying in wasn’t available to us later and we just had to take our chances. We were in luck and able to survey sites 1 and 2 in Puako today. Site 1 is the turtle cleaning station and we saw many turtles there! Site 2 is the most difficult to access from shore and all of us sustained minor injuries because of it—urchin spines and twisted ankles and skinned knees. Even so it was a very productive and good day and we were well on our way to getting most of our work done.

One of many turtles we saw at the turtle cleaning station on Site 1.

Day 3: February 1, 2016

Today we dove with Captain Pete McCormick off his boat the Hapuna. We’ve been doing this for four years and it’s always a treat. Diving off Pete’s boat makes the surveys at sites 3 and 4 off of the Old Kona Airport in Kona a breeze. These used to be our longest surface swims, when we had to access it from shore. Today, there was a gentle swell and our dives went very smoothly. Afterward we motored south past Kona-Kailua to site 8 where the newly discovered Acropera corals live. We surveyed it for just the second time since 2014, as we couldn’t access it last year because of the high surf conditions. There were lots of fish but unfortunately several of the Acropera coral heads were dead. This is due to last summer’s coral bleaching event: unusually warm water temperatures in Hawaii caused bleaching of the corals and sometimes death. Over half of the corals that we saw seemed to be dead.

Over half of the corals we saw seemed to be dead due to unusually warm water temperatures in Hawaii, which caused bleaching of the corals and sometimes death.

Day 4: February 2, 2016

Our luck finally ran out and today the swell was too big to dive our remaining site, 5, in Puako. So we took it easy and swam around checking out site 1 more closely and prepared to give a talk about the research and our findings to the Puako homeowners association at the old historic church on Puako Road.

Day 5: February 3, 2016

Finally we were able to get site 5 done! The waves were still a bit large but this was our last day of diving so we just had to go for it. It was a little stressful timing the waves sets so we didn’t get hammered going out and coming back in but no one got hurt and we were able to survey all our sites. The last duty of the day was to give our talk to the homeowners association about our work and what we have found. We spoke for over an hour to about 20 interested Puako residents discussing our work, coral bleaching and ways to keep the reef healthy.

Day 6: February 4, 2016

This is our non-diving de-gas day so we can purge all the nitrogen that we built up in our tissues from our week of diving preparing for the flight home. To use the time wisely we met with University of Hawaii, Hilo marine biologist Tracy Weigner, a marine ecologist who studies water quality from septic systems and other point sources in Puako and the potential deleterious effects on the reef. Dr. Weigner and her colleagues would like to partner with us on both water quality monitoring as well as the sharing of reef data. It was a very productive meeting and look forward to working with our new partners.

Day 7: February 5, 2016

Today is a travel day and after dropping off all of our scuba gear we headed back to Kona to briefly meet with Dr. Bill Walsh with DAR to share our data and check in before heading to the airport to fly home. Aloha, it was a great trip!

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More than meets the eye: octopus age and maturity

Kong - giant Pacific octopus

We can look at another human being and estimate their age pretty easily—but it’s not so simple with octopuses. Scientists haven’t yet found a reliable way to identify the age of giant Pacific octopuses (or GPOs), since no part of the animal’s body, even the beak, shows any growth rings or other measures. Even size isn’t an indicator of age, since GPO growth is highly dependent on food availability when the animals are young.

Determining GPO maturity—the point at which the animals are capable of reproducing—isn’t a simple matter either. Various studies have attempted to gauge GPO maturity at anywhere from 1.5 to 3 years of age but these are estimates; anatomical studies are more accurate. Such studies of female and male GPOs show that females are mature when they have well-developed eggs in their ovaries; males when they have mature spermatophores in their internal storage. Needless to say, that’s not something that can be determined while looking at an octopus on exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium, or while diving in Puget Sound!

Jelly Bean - giant Pacific octopus

As we mentioned above, size isn’t an indicator of GPO age—and it’s not a measure of maturity either. The average weight of a sexually mature GPO varies broadly, from about 15 pounds to over 60 pounds. Males tend to mature at smaller weights than females. Females and males smaller than 22 pounds or so tend to be immature but, complicating matters, some considerably larger animals may still be immature.

Want to learn more about GPOs? Check out our octopus fact sheet, then join us for Octopus Week at the Seattle Aquarium, February 13­–21!

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Seattle Aquarium 2016 Chairman's Dinner honorees

Chairmans 's Dinner 2016

Pictured from left to right: Bob Donegan, board chair; Robert W. Davidson, president and CEO; Peter Seligmann, Seattle Aquarium Medal winner; Gini Beck, Scott S. Patrick Award winner; Jeffery R. Cordell, Conservation Research Award winner; and Randy Tinseth, immediate past chair

The Seattle Aquarium bestowed its annual awards at our annual Chairman’s Dinner on January 27. The evening began with remarks and recap of the Aquarium’s 2015 activities by Board Chairman Bob Donegan. Immediate Past Chair Randy J.  Tinseth then presented longtime board member Gini Beck with the Scott S. Patrick Inspirational Award. Named for the late Aquarium board member and Seattle Seahawks executive who served with extraordinary passion, the award annually recognizes the Seattle Aquarium board member whose service best exemplifies the passion, leadership and enthusiasm which characterized Scott Patrick’s life and board service.

Seattle Aquarium President & CEO Robert W. Davidson presented the evening’s remaining awards. Conservation International Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder Peter Seligmann was honored with the Seattle Aquarium Medal, which is presented each year to an individual whose leadership and lifetime accomplishments reflect the mission of the Seattle Aquarium: Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment.

Peter Seligmann is a passionate, influential advocate who has provided a lifetime of leadership on issues related to global health. A dynamic communicator and thought leader, has been an influential and inspiring voice in conservation for nearly 40 years. He works in partnership with governments, communities, and businesses to find solutions to ensure the sustainability of our natural resources.

Seligmann began his career in 1976 with The Nature Conservancy, serving as the organization’s western region land steward, and later became the director of the California Nature Conservancy. He is currently the chairman and CEO of Conservation International, a global nonprofit organization that he co-founded in 1987. Under his direction, Conservation International has become a cutting-edge leader in valuing and sustainably caring for nature for the well-being of people.

The University of Washington’s Aquatic and Fishery Sciences Principal Research Scientist Jeffery R. Cordell received the Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award, which honors individuals performing leadership research in the field.

Cordell has been a research scientist at the UW School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences since 1977. His research mainly focuses on understanding how juvenile salmon and the invertebrates they feed on are affected by human development and how degraded habitats can be improved. His current work is focused on salmon habitat along Seattle’s central waterfront and is a key element of the ongoing seawall replacement project.

Despite the highly altered shoreline, Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle still serve as a migratory corridor and rearing habitat for juvenile salmon, including the threatened chinook species. The need to replace the seawall prompted the City to form a team to focus on habitat enhancements along the central waterfront, and presented a unique opportunity to improve the habitat conditions of the structure. Cordell has led the long-term research, funded by the City of Seattle and Washington State Sea Grant, to design, install and monitor large-scale test panels at three locations along the waterfront.

Cordell and his team tested the potential benefits of slopes and crevices along the seawall, exploring how and whether engineered complexity can increase species diversity and abundance. As a result, Seattle will be the first city in the world to incorporate habitat panels into a large expanse of seawall. The city plans to monitor the panels for several years after construction, generating the data needed to design future ecologically beneficial seawalls, both in Puget Sound and around the world.

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