As reported by Nicole O’Donnell, Mystic Aquarium’s Senior Trainer of Cetaceans and Pinnipeds
OCTOBER 20-27, 2017: My first week in Alaska has been nothing short of remarkable. After a very brief two-hour crossover with Carey, Mystic Aquarium’s Supervisor of Cetaceans & Pinnipeds, I was on my way to learning my role in the rehabilitation process of this beluga calf. I have been paired on the 4PM – midnight shift with George Biedenbach, the Director of Georgia Aquarium’s Conservation Field Station, who has extensive knowledge in cetacean care. There is also a rotating third member on our shift that is part of the Alaska SeaLife Center team. I cannot help but be in awe of the immense collaboration and the amount of expertise that has come together to give this calf a fighting chance at survival.
One of the goals for this week was to slowly acclimatize the calf to lower water and air temperatures. When the calf was originally admitted, the water temperature was held at a higher temperature to maximize the amount of energy the calf was allocating to the healing process, rather than regulating body temperature. Since the calf has been maintaining a steady progression, the water temperature is now being lowered by one (1) degree each day.
Ultimately, the goal is to replicate the seawater temperature of Resurrection Bay, where the Alaska SeaLife Center is located. This goal would be same temperature he would be experiencing in his natural habitat, so the ability to thermoregulate at this temperature is important. Additionally, he is being exposed to outdoor air temperatures for one (1) hour several times daily via an adjustable back wall, which is a very beneficial feature of Alaska SeaLife Center’s Marine Mammal Intensive Care Unit (I.Sea.U); where the calf is being rehabilitated.
This week has been filled with an abundance of learning opportunities and I look forward to what the next 2 weeks will bring.