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Beluga Rescue Collaboration: January 21-23, 2018

As reported by Laurie Macha, Mystic Aquarium’s Curator of Mammals and Birds

January 21, 2018: I started my shift a little early today so I could help with stretcher desensitizing (aka desense) during his 4pm bottle. Throughout his care veterinarians must take blood and perform other diagnostics on Tyonek to ensure that he remains healthy. A stretcher is used to obtain these diagnostics. So, as you can imagine, making the stretcher familiar and the process a positive one for Tyonek is very important. Tyonek did really well for his stretcher desense and seemed very comfortable with its presence in the water.

This is work that my colleague Jesse [Ciletti] spoke about in one of her blogs as well. Jen (from Shedd) and I donned waders and headed to the submerged platform in Tyonek’s habitat. Jen fed him his bottle and I held the stretcher alongside of him so that Tyonek would become comfortable with the stretcher, which is an important piece of equipment in marine mammal animal care. Tyonek appears comfortable with its presence in the water. Once we finished with his bottle session, my shift started.

I count his respirations hourly between making formula for his upcoming feedings for the evening. After each feedings during this shift, he stayed around for some tactile interaction. Again, it seems like he is getting comfortable with me. Of course, I am ecstatic to be building a trusting relationship.

Tonight was a little different than my previous night here. Saturday I observed him resting and sleeping; but, tonight he was much more active. Moving enrichment items around the pool, he would race back and forth between items. He figured out how to dump the ice pieces from atop of one of the discs. Each night I can’t imagine how this experience can get any better –yet it does!

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to help Tyonek and learn more from him, the colleagues I’m working with and the Alaska SeaLife Center. Tyonek is only one of the amazing rehabilitation cases!

January 22, 2018: I started my shift at 3:45pm and was able to watch some in-water training with Tyonek, Lisa and Jen. When we work with our belugas, seals, sea lions and penguins we use positive reinforcement with fish as a primary reinforcement. Because Tyonek is not yet eating fish, the same is done with bottle feeding. He is learning very quickly! It’s amazing to see our relationships develop with him.

My shift was rather quiet tonight and I’m getting into the swing of timing all of my duties. During the 8pm feeding, Tyonek had really good latches onto the bottle nipple resulting in less dripping of formula. It was much neater! Tonight Tyonek also showed a preference for interacting with his enrichment devices rather than sticking around for tactile with me.

It started snowing during my shift and got pretty steady by the end of my shift at midnight. On my way back ‘home’ from the ASCL, the snow fall got pretty heavy and visibility was difficult. I concentrated on driving slow and steady. During my commute, I received a call from Jen back at the apartment asking if we had an earthquake. I didn’t feel anything, maybe because I was concentrating so hard on driving?
After watching the news, I learned that we, indeed, had a 7.9 earthquake that was centered south of Kodiak. Jen said it was pretty scary and everything was shaking – funny I missed it all. Shortly after the earthquake a tsunami warning was issued and Seward City Limits was evacuated. The ASLC staff kicked into their emergency planning and from there it was just a waiting game to see if there was an imminent tsunami on its way.

During this early morning waiting, we were in touch with ASLC staff to see if any assistance was needed and all of us were getting calls and messages from home. The outpouring of concern and well wishes from my family, friends and colleagues was heartwarming and so appreciated. The first call I made was to my husband to let him know that I was okay and in a safe zone. I finally drifted off to fitful sleep at 3:30am this morning. I hope that this is all we see of this type of activity for the rest of my visit.

I guess I can say I got the “full” Alaska experience!

January 23, 2018: Today when I woke up I definitely felt a bit tired from worrying about the earthquake and potential tsunami, so I drank a bunch of coffee, ate lunch and got myself ready for my next shift. For Tyonek’s 4pm bottle feed, Jen and I worked on stretcher de-sense again. This session was even better than the day before. I even picked up one of the bars – he didn’t even bat an eye! Shortly after Jen and I got out of the 44F water and my shift began.

Tyonek spent the first half of my shift resting – which I can see why now because the second half of my shift he was playing with his enrichment, zipping back and forth from one item to the next. The 8pm feeding was the best feeding yet! He quickly downed his two bottles of formula with hardly letting any drip out of his mouth. It’s so gratifying to give him his bottle and see him latch onto the nipple and hear him suckling. It was after his bottle I gave him some enrichment –a collection of hoses tied together with soft car wash material. He spent a good portion of the night rubbing on it, setting it on his melon and trying to push it out of the pool. It’s great to see him so active!

Tonight I also put the hydrophone on for about an hour, before downloading the file onto the computer. This was a new thing for me – but I will add this to my evening schedule moving forward. I also found that I really enjoy making his formula – kind of a “zen” moment! Midnight came around very quickly and before I knew it Christina was there to do the midnight feed with me and my shift was done.

Laurie Tyonek Blog

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