Saturday, September 16, 2006

Health condition of dolphin with scoliosis is improving

Zoo vets, trainers and officials were encouraged by the attitude and performance of a very special dolphin. Ayla, a 14-year-old dolphin with scoliosis, was presenting her tail flukes so veterinary technician Jennie Prom could draw blood."A week ago, all we could do was offer food and she would eat," said Minnesota Zoo Marine Mammal Supervisor Diane Fusco.Fusco had feared she and her colleagues would have to corral Ayla and immobilize her so they could get the blood sample."It's really good," she said about the dolphin cooperation.

"We're really excited about that."Fusco and her trainers called zoo veterinarians when Ayla went off her food, and stopped cooperating with her trainers last June.Veterinarians found bacteria in her blood, and shadows in X-rays of her lungs."You can see some haziness where the lungs are, and that's an indication that she might have a little bit of interstitial pneumonia going on," said Senior Minnesota Zoo Veterinarian Jim Rasmussen.

They began treating Ayla with antibiotics stuffed into the herring and capelin they feed her.She began eating more readily, and cooperating with her trainers again.That was a relief.Ayla has scoliosis, a twisting and bending of the spine. It inhibits her breathing, and keeps her from participating in some of the dolphin hyjinks the rest of the pod demonstrate."Her spinal column is pretty significantly twisted to the side and also has some deviation up and down as well," said Senior Veterinarian Rasmussen."It's kinda "S" shaped to the side and has some distortion top to bottom as well," he said."Probably it's reducing her lung capacity."

"It would predispose her to respiratory problems. She can't exhale quite as well as a normal animal so bacteria can get into her lungs and they don't probably blow out... they aren't exhales or expectorated as easily as they are in a normal animal."Dr. Rasmussen said this blood sample would be analyzed for bacteria, but he's optimistic."Clinically, she's improved remarkably, and she's acting normal, but we going to follow up on the blood work to make sure that's continuing to improve as well.The veterinarian said Ayla had seemed better, then relapsed, so they're continuing the antibiotics.Ayla was born at the Minnesota Zoo in 1992.

About a month after her birth, trainers noticed her dorsal fin began leaning to the left, and a lump had appeared on her left side. A week after that, a second lump appeared on her right side.Zoo staff have treated her for respiratory problems several times.Dolphins life expectancy is typically greater than 25 years."If she had been born in the wild," said Dr. Rasmussen," I don't think she would have survived more than a day or two."On September 26, Ayla will turn 14 at the Minnesota Zoo.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"