President’s Blog: November 16, 2017
President's Blog

President’s Blog: November 16, 2017

Dear Friend: We are very pleased to welcome three new…

Dear Friend:

We are very pleased to welcome three new members of the Board of Trustees who were elected at our recent Board meeting.

Patrick Green

In April 2017, Patrick Green was named the new President and CEO of L+M Healthcare and the Executive Vice President of Yale New Haven Health. His appointment was effective June 5, 2017. Prior to his new role at L+M, Green served for five years as Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at St. Anthony Hospital (Lakewood, CO), a Level 1 Trauma Center and a member of Centura Health, the largest health system in Colorado. During his tenure the hospital achieved unprecedented growth as well as strong financial viability and operational excellence. Green has a combined 19 years of experience leading nonprofit health systems and complex academic medical centers.

Green is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Langston University (Langston, OK) and a MBA from the University of Central Oklahoma (Edmond, OK).

Mike Leven

Mike Leven has served as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Georgia Aquarium since January 1, 2015. He previously served as the organization’s CEO briefly from 2008-2009, before leaving to lead Las Vegas Sands Corporation as its President and COO. Leven’s 50+ years of employment history is one of strong hospitality management, including Vice Chairman of The Marcus Foundation.  He also served as President and COO of Holiday Inn Worldwide for over five years and was directly responsible for the launch of the new Holiday Inn Express brand. Leven also served as President of Days Inn of America in the late 1980s.

In addition, Leven is the co-founder of the Asian America Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), which has over 14,000 members owning more than 20,000 hotels. He serves on the boards of Birthright Israel Foundation and is Chairman of the Planning Committee, Board of Advisors of Prager University, and the U.S. Energy Security Council. Leven also serves on the Board of Trustees at Hersha Hospitality Trust. He previously served on the American Gaming Association board of directors.

In 2015, Leven was inducted into the U.S. Travel Hall of Leaders, the single highest and most revered honor an individual in the travel industry can receive. He was once named one of the “25 Most Extraordinary Sales and Marketing Minds in Hospitality & Travel.” Leven holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University and a Master of Science degree from Boston University. He also holds honorary doctorate degrees from both Johnson & Wales University and the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management of Niagara University.

Joe Marino

Joe Marino is the current CEO of Rite-Solutions, an award-winning software development, system engineering, information technology and learning development firm based in Middletown, RI. The company also has satellite offices in Pawcatuck, CT, Virginia Beach, VA and Washington, DC. Rite-Solutions is a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business with over 200 employees. The nature of their work includes everything from helping the U.S. Navy build advanced command-and-control systems to assisting healthcare and financial organizations improve workplace performance.

Marino co-founded Rite-Solutions in 2000 with his colleague and friend Jim Lavoie (now Chairman of the Board of Rite-Solutions). Marino has over 35 years of experience in technical, financial, and programmatic administration of both large and small defense and commercial programs. As CEO, Marino is responsible for strategic direction of the company and maintaining its critical relationships. He has been featured in various publications, including the New York Times and Harvard Business Review.

He was previously employed for many years by Analysis & Technology, a high-technology firm in North Stonington, CT. Prior to that, he was employed by Electric Boat as an Electrical Engineer. He is a graduate of University of Rhode Island class of 1971.

These three new Trustees bring extensive experience and leadership to our Board and we look forward to their active engagement with Mystic Aquarium.

Also at the Board meeting, the following Trustees were re-elected to a three year term:

Tina Allaire

Dr. Peter Barr

Peter Drakos

John Holstein

Dr. George M. Milne, Jr.

Steve Perrelli

Susette Tibus

The Board also elected the following slate of officers:

Dr. George M. Milne, Jr., Chairman of the Board

Tom Mosey, Vice Chair

Susette Tibus, Vice Chair

Steve Perrelli, Vice Chair

Nick Leone, Treasurer

Gary Hammersmith, Secretary

Cheryl Miller, Assistant Secretary

We appreciate the commitment of all of these individuals to the Board and to the mission of Mystic Aquarium.


Ziggy Star

I want to share the following story published in The Day on November 12:

Mystic Aquarium looks to surgery to treat fur seal with seizures

Mystic Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Jen Flower gives northern fur seal Ziggy Star a towel massage after a swim in an exercise pool on Friday, November 10, 2017. Ziggy came to Mystic in 2014 after she was rescued in California and diagnosed with a neurological disorder cerebral demyelination preventing her return to the wild. Ziggy has recently suffered medical problems requiring more care. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Published November 12. 2017 7:23PM | Updated November 13. 2017 7:12PM

By Joe Wojtas   Day staff writer

Mystic — A female northern fur seal that has fought neurological problems since being found near death on a California beach four years ago is about to undergo surgery that could end the seizures she has been having.

Ziggy Star is among five northern fur seals at Mystic Aquarium and one of just 11 in captivity in the United States. The seals were once hunted in large numbers for their luxurious pelts but are now a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Ziggy, estimated to be a teenager, suffers from cerebral demyelination that affects her coordination and ability to process images correctly. This forces her to rely more on her hearing to interact with the trainers who have been caring for her almost around the clock since her condition worsened a few weeks ago.

After being found emaciated, she was rescued in April 2013 and taken to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., where testing showed that the condition she suffers from would make it difficult for her to survive in the wild.

Mystic Aquarium marine mammal trainer Chrissy Metzger keeps watch as northern fur seal Ziggy Star swims in an exercise pool on Friday, November 10, 2017. Ziggy came to Mystic in 2014 after she was rescued in California and diagnosed with a neurological disorder cerebral demyelination preventing her return to the wild. Ziggy has recently suffered medical problems requiring more care. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

The aquarium stepped in to take Ziggy. An online campaign by the aquarium resulted in 276 donations to cover the cost of transporting her to Mystic in March 2014. Since then she has lived with the other fur seals in an outdoor exhibit, receiving specialized care and has been relatively healthy until the past several weeks.

That’s when a cluster of seizures forced the aquarium to bring Ziggy to the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., for advanced brain imaging and evaluation by a veterinary neurologist.

“We really were not sure if she was going to come back to us,” said Erin Gibbons, the aquarium’s assistant supervisor of cetaceans and pinnipeds. “I have never seen a fighting spirit like I have seen in this animal. She doesn’t give up.”

Ziggy, who weighs 100 pounds, is now receiving a regimen of oral medications to prevent seizures, intravenous fluids, Vitamin E injections, laser therapy and wound care for her right rear flippers, daily massages and salt water baths. She has slowly been reintroduced to swimming, beginning in a shallow pool, and is transitioning to deeper water with divers alongside.

The aquarium has been researching Ziggy’s medical records and treatment options and has now decided to proceed with surgery to control the seizures, Gibbons said. The surgery could take place within a few weeks as the aquarium has to coordinate with the various veterinary professionals who will be involved.

Gibbons said that although the surgery has been performed on dogs, this would be the first time she knows of that it has been done on a seal.

Mystic Aquarium marine mammal trainer Chrissy Metzger feeds northern fur seal Ziggy Star a piece of fish to encourage her to walk to an exercise pool Friday, November 10, 2017. Ziggy came to Mystic in 2014 after she was rescued in California and diagnosed with a neurological disorder cerebral demyelination preventing her return to the wild. Ziggy has recently suffered medical problems requiring more care. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Gibbons, who oversees Ziggy’s care with trainers Chrissy Metzger and Jessie Smashey, said the seal enjoys the touch of her trainers, rubbing on their arms for grooming.

“We know she does that because she trusts us. It’s not something a seal would normally do,” she said. “She’s extra comfortable with us because she relies on us far more than the other animals.”

It is costing the aquarium more than $4,000 a month to care for Ziggy. Anyone who would like to donate toward her care can do so at

Mystic Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Jen Flower, back, helps northern fur seal Ziggy Star walk to her bed as marine mammal trainer Jessi Smashey, right, coaxes her along after a swim in an exercise pool on Friday, November 10, 2017. Ziggy came to Mystic in 2014 after she was rescued in California and diagnosed with a neurological disorder cerebral demyelination preventing her return to the wild. Ziggy has recently suffered medical problems requiring more care. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)


Vice President of Biological Programs, Dr. Allison Tuttle provided the following update on Ziggy Star:

“Ziggy Star will be undergoing surgery in the Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University in the next few weeks.

Since her cluster of seizures at the end of September, Ziggy has been up and down; the neurologist believes that this is relative to the amount of fluid accumulation on her brain.

This has not yet been done in a pinniped of any kind, but is a common and relatively low risk procedure in humans and dogs.  We have consulted with a veterinary anesthesiologist who indicated that her current neurological status does not increase her risk under anesthesia any more than for other fur seals.

If successful, we are hopeful that this procedure will return Ziggy Star’s quality of life and prevent future seizure activity. Additionally, it would be the first time this type of procedure was done in a pinniped and would be a relevant contribution to the veterinary literature and for all marine mammal holding and rescue organizations.”


A Special Trip

Last week we received a special request from President of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Dan Ashe who had received word that Jacob Thompson, a 9 year terminally ill boy at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, Maine was very interested in meeting a penguin.

Senior Trainer of Penguins Josh Davis and volunteer Cherie Bovia made his wish come true.  The staff of the hospital reported that it was the first time in several weeks that Jacob smiled.  Take a look at the wonderful story that appeared in the Portland Press Herald last week:

All of us at Mystic Aquarium are thinking of Jacob and his family and as Thanksgiving approaches, we are truly grateful for the opportunity to share with them in this special experience.


See you all soon,


The Latest

Press Releases


Mystic, Conn. (February 12, 2019): Over the last few years,…

Research Spotlight: Celebrate World Whale Day With Conservation

By Dr. Laura Thompson, Mystic Aquarium Researcher Today, February 9,…
Press Releases


Mystic, Conn. (January 22, 2019): Mystic Aquarium recently announced that…