Multiple factors in deaths of Storybook seals, Nunavut survives
London Community News
The Saint Louis Zoo announced Friday (July 20) that the cause of the deaths of three harbor seals who died in transit to the facility from Storybook Gardens was due to multiple factors, with the primary cause being exertional myopathy.
Myopathy is, strictly speaking, any disease of a muscle. Severe cases of myopathy are characterized by stiffness and acute renal failure and may develop under stress.
“Essentially it appears these animals were not used to being in a transit situation,” said Dr. Eric Miller, senior vice-president and director of zoological operations at the Saint Louis Zoo. “Contrary to some claims, the necropsies yielded no evidence that external heat stress was a factor in the death of the seals.”
The Storybook seals were part of a shipment to join 11 sea lions in the zoo’s new, 1.5-acre Sea Lion Sound exhibit, which opened June 30. The remaining seal arrived in St. Louis on June 9 and continues to be healthy and alert.
Confusion over the identity of the surviving seal has also now been corrected. A review of historical records of the four seals by Saint Louis Zoo officials determined that the name and identity of the surviving seal is different from those originally reported.
The seals were not tagged in any way for transport and were only identified by certain general physical characteristics and/or marks. This limited information led to the misidentification of the surviving seal as 18-year-old Peanut.
However, necropsy findings and the description of the seals on the international health certificate of the surviving seal show the healthy seal to be the 12-year-old daughter of Peanut, Nunavut.
Therefore, the seals that died were Peanut, age 18, and Atlantis, age 11, who died on June 8. Cri Cri, age 19, died June 13 after being cared for at Indianapolis Zoo for four days after she developed problems in transit. Appropriate federal agencies have been notified of this discrepancy.
Nunavut has completed her quarantine period at the zoo and has been moved to the new exhibit to join the sea lions on display there. Zoo officials say she appears to be adapting well to her new surroundings and companions.
The College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University completed a necropsy on Cri Cri. The Saint Louis Zoo’s American College of Veterinary Pathologists board-certified pathologist, Dr. Mary Duncan, Ph.D., conducted necropsies on Peanut and Atlantis after they arrived at the Saint Louis Zoo on June 9.
Saint Louis Zoo was awarded all necessary permits for the transfer of these animals and had a detailed transport plan in place. All the animals were examined before departure and checked frequently while in transit.
A highly experienced Saint Louis Zoo curator accompanied the animals in transit and an experienced, licensed professional animal carrier was contracted to handle the transport in a specially equipped, air-conditioned trailer.
“We again offer our deepest sympathy to the staff of Storybook Gardens, who asked us to provide a home for the four seals that they could no longer keep, and to the citizens of London, Ont., who had known and loved these seals for many years,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bonner, Dana Brown president and CEO of the Saint Louis Zoo. “We did everything we possibly could to ensure the safety and comfort of these animals. There is always some risk inherent in any animal transport, but our zoo completes approximately 200 animal transports annually with no problems, so this has been a tragic event.”
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